3D Animation Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

About this article
What will you learn in a 3D animation degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
View available schools

Studying 3D Animation: Degrees at a Glance

To become a multimedia artist or animator, it's most important to have a strong portfolio of work and excellent technical skills, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A degree program can help you hone your artistic and technical skills and give you opportunities to use industry software and equipment. A bachelor's program is often sufficient, but a master's degree program can help you achieve advanced positions in the field. If you want to teach animation at the postsecondary level, you need at least a master's degree, though a PhD is preferable.

The BLS predicted that jobs for multimedia artists and animators would increase eight percent from 2010-2020, which is considered slower-than-average growth. Although increased demand is anticipated for multimedia artists and animators creating animations for mobile technology, video games, television shows and movies, this growth could be mitigated by the outsourcing of these jobs overseas.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals seeking to develop their art portfolios and sharpen their technical skills - Individuals who want to be postsecondary teachers
- People who want to develop innovative applications for animation
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Multimedia artist or animator ($61,000)*
- Film or video editor ($53,000 - several years' experience is typically required)*
- Art director ($81,000 - 3-5 years' experience is typically required)*
Same options for master's degree holders, plus:
- Postsecondary art teacher ($62,000)*
Time to Completion 1.5-3 years, full-time 3-6 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 15-20 courses
- Master's thesis or directed study project
- Roughly 15-18 courses
- Qualifying examinations
-Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Animation portfolio
- Bachelor's or master's degree
- Portfolio
- Graduate-level computer programming courses
Online Availability Online courses and degree programs are rare None found as of September 2012

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in 3D Animation

Animation programs at this level may lead to Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees. MFA programs may require up to double the credits required for MA programs. Master's programs may offer specializations in 3D modeling or 3D visual effects. Master's degree programs teach you advanced skills and help you develop imaginative and innovative animations. You can learn to create realistic facial features and clothing as well as convincing rain and fire special effects. You become well-versed in the start-to-finish animation process, including storyboarding, character development and special effects. Areas in which you can focus are cinema, television, video games and computer games; programs may require you to complete projects in multiple mediums.

Keep in mind that a degree is not required to work in the animation field and that a bachelor's degree is the level of education that animators commonly attain. Yet, a graduate degree can train you to use the most sophisticated equipment and software necessary to meet industry demands. Many animators are self-employed, so learning new skills could help you find additional work projects. A master's degree in 3D animation can also open the door to teaching opportunities at community colleges and universities.

Pros and Cons


  • Opportunity to build on your existing technical skills
  • Required projects that incorporate advanced techniques can strengthen your existing portfolio
  • Internship opportunities can lead to future, permanent employment
  • Can qualify you to teach at the collegiate level


  • Admission is typically very competitive
  • A master's degree doesn't necessarily qualify you for better jobs than those available to bachelor's degree holders
  • There aren't many programs available throughout the country
  • In total, you'd spend 5-7 years in college

Courses and Requirements

Graduate-level courses in 3D animation offer both classroom instruction and hands-on learning opportunities. You need to complete a thesis or directed project to graduate. Some programs also require you to complete an internship, which provides the chance to build your professional reputation and network with potential employers. Some of the courses you may take include:

  • History of animation
  • Storytelling through animation
  • Maya software
  • Animated film
  • 3D effects
  • Cartoon animation
  • Naturalistic characters and environments

Online Course Info

Online master's degree programs in animation are rare. Those that are available offer similar curricula and specializations to their on-campus counterparts and require you to complete hands-on film projects. You can watch lectures and videos on animation techniques and chat with professors and fellow students through the online system. Distance-learning programs may arrange on-site events where students can display their work and network with recruiting professionals.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Since employment is highly based on the strength of your portfolio and technical abilities, you can stand out by learning many software programs and creating a portfolio that highlights your diverse strengths. Examples of software you may want to learn include AutoCAD, Adobe Suite, Cinema 4D, Apple FCP and 3D Studio Max. Working part-time jobs can help you gain years of experience, pieces for your portfolio and professional references; they could also lead to full-time employment.

PhD in 3D Animation

At the doctoral level, you'll probably need to specialize in 3D animation within a program in electronic arts, media arts and practice, arts and technology or a related area. You typically have the freedom to tailor your coursework and focus your dissertation on 3D animation and multimedia technology topics of your interest. Although doctoral students have the chance to further develop their skills and portfolios, the primary focus of these programs is research. You may strive to apply your talents to new industries and projects, within education systems for example.

If you're interested in developing a unique animation career, carrying out independent research or teaching college, a PhD program focused on 3D animation can help you achieve your career goals. If, however, you are focusing on breaking into the existing animation career field, a master's, or even a bachelor's degree, is often sufficient preparation to find employment.

Pros and Cons


  • Earning a PhD places you in an exclusive, advanced group of animation and media experts
  • A significant portion of the curriculum is allocated for research and development of novel applications for animated material
  • Graduates can teach at the postsecondary level, and, if they achieve tenure, they'll have considerable job security
  • Opportunity to shape the 3D animation field and the next generation of animators


  • A PhD isn't necessary for the majority of 3D animation and multimedia jobs
  • Programs are rare throughout the nation
  • Earning a PhD is a long and involved process, and time spent researching instead could be invested in learning new software applications and honing your artistic skills
  • Finding a job in the competitive academic job market could require moving anywhere in the nation

Courses and Requirements

Students pursuing a PhD focused on 3D animation complete coursework, research and hands-on projects in digital and electronic arts and technology. Programs may require 42-60 credits of graduate-level coursework. Classes you might take include:

  • Interactive art aesthetics
  • Interdisciplinary research in technology and arts
  • Interactive media projects
  • Visual and digital rhetoric
  • New media theory
  • Integrated arts

In addition to coursework, you'll also be required to pass qualifying exams and write and defend a dissertation. Programs may also have a foreign language requirement.

Online Course Info

Online doctoral degree programs in 3D animation, the digital arts and related areas would be extremely unusual. None were found as of September 2012. Many PhD programs have residency requirements that mandate students complete a certain portion of their studies on campus. Additionally, pursuing a traditional campus-based degree may afford you more opportunities to network and take advantage of a school's resources, including software programs, books and faculty members.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Completing research or teaching college courses in 3D animation require you to have extensive working knowledge of the software programs involved in creating animations, so learning a diverse set of software can be useful. If you plan to teach at the postsecondary level, you can increase your employment opportunities by focusing on an area of 3D animation that isn't widely studied. You can also increase your potential employment options by publishing your work in academic journals, trade papers and other relevant publications.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • Game Design Masters - Online
  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design

What is your highest level of education?

DigiPen Institute of Technology

Academy of Art University