Animation & Visual Effects Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an animation and visual effects degree program? Read about animation and visual effects degree program requirements, the pros and cons of master's and doctoral degrees and potential careers.
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Study Animation and Visual Effects: Degrees at a Glance

If you have a creative mind and like to be up-to-date with the newest media technology, you may have the right drive to obtain your master's or PhD degree in animation and visual effects. These graduate programs immerse you in the multi-step process of creating animations and teach you to work with cutting-edge graphics software. You're encouraged to develop a unique visual perspective and innovate new purposes for animation. Graduates can apply their knowledge to a wide variety of jobs in media, art and education.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of multimedia artists and animators was projected to increase by 8% from 2010 to 2020, while that of art directors was expected to increase 9%; these are slower-than-average rates. As for postsecondary teachers and researchers, the BLS projected that job growth would be 17%, an average rate.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? - People interested in working with animation and effects in a variety of industries
- Animators who want to teach at technical schools
Individuals who want a college teaching or research career, or those who want to be leaders and innovators
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Motion picture and video multimedia artists and animators ($83,000)*
- Computer design multimedia artists and animators ($62,000)*
- Software publishing multimedia artists and animators ($65,000)*
- Advertising multimedia artists and animators ($64,000)*
- Art directors ($96,000)*
-Technical school professors ($58,000)*
- Many (or all) of the jobs requiring a master's degree, plus:
-Postsecondary professor or researcher ($72,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 40-60 credit hours
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Portfolio review
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- Usually 4-6 more graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in animation and visual effects or a related field Bachelor's or master's degree in animation and visual effects or a related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

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

Master's Degree in Animation and Visual Effects

Animation and visual effects programs cover the entire process of creating an animated film, from concept development to 3D modeling and post-production. You might choose a concentration in 2D or 3D animation, modeling or special effects. Programs teach you to create complex animation sequences with industry-specific software. You learn technical and professional communication and workplace standards, and you can build your professional portfolio with film projects.

A master's degree program in animation and visual effects can prepare you for work in many different types of multimedia art and animation settings. Careers this degree can lead to include video and computer game designer, technical director, 2D or 3D animator, 3D modeler, compositor and storyboard artist. In addition to these positions, you could also become a visual effects artist, concept artist, character designer or an educator at the technical or community college level.

Pros and Cons


  • Can apply and realize your creative vision
  • Course requirements are flexible and depend strongly on student interests
  • Degree requirement projects can boost your professional portfolio
  • Online master's degree programs are available


  • Slower-than-average job growth for animators expected between 2010 and 2020
  • Ability to create a remarkable portfolio and secure employment often depends on personal talent rather than the degree level
  • Lengthy and costly education path

Courses and Requirements

At the master's degree level, you're typically required to choose a specialization. Though you can expect some core courses in the history and culture of art and animation, your classes depend on your concentration and the electives you choose. Subjects you may study in an animation and visual effects program include the following:

  • Aesthetics of animation
  • Creating storyboards
  • Designing characters
  • 2D and 3D modeling and animation
  • Animation production
  • 3D character computer animation
  • Animation and movement art

In addition to coursework, exams and hands-on projects, you're also typically required to complete an internship or independent study project. Writing a master's thesis and/or creating an animation film may be the last requirements.

Online Degree Options

If you're a working professional or otherwise unable to attend on-campus courses, you can still earn a master's degree in animation and visual effects, via distance learning. By utilizing online multimedia applications, you can view class materials and artistic demonstrations. You can also communicate with instructors and classrooms through discussion boards and interactive conference software.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Animation and visual effects jobs often require years of experience in the field, demonstrated through your portfolio and resume. Programs commonly offer directed study courses; you can use these to complete animation projects related to your areas of interest and prepare for the current competitive job market. You can also take on part-time, temporary jobs or complete internships to learn new skills and boost your professional portfolio.

PhD in Animation and Visual Effects

You can enroll in a media arts and technology doctoral program and focus your studies on animation and visual effects. Independent study options and self-tailored curriculums characterize doctoral studies in the field, and this level of study is designed for innovative people who want to create new applications and industries for animation. Doctoral programs in this discipline are typically extremely competitive. Class sizes tend to be small, the workload is research-intensive and you can expect a lot of one-on-one time with professors and advisors.

Keep in mind that for many jobs in this field, having years of experience is often more valuable to potential employers than a PhD. However, if you want to work in research or postsecondary academia, a PhD is often necessary.

Pros and Cons


  • You can tailor coursework and research projects to your interests
  • Through research and development, you could create new cultural and commercial applications for visual effects and animation
  • Job growth in academia is projected to be better than in multimedia arts and animation industries
  • If you choose to pursue a career in academia, you could potentially gain job security by earning tenure


  • It may be difficult to get into a PhD program in this field
  • Jobs may require relocation to areas with big film production industries, like New York City or Los Angeles
  • Attaining tenure can be arduous and is by no means guaranteed

Courses and Requirements

The courses that you take in a PhD program in media arts and technology, focused on animation and visual effects, depends largely on your area of interest. For example, you could specialize in video game character development or focus on designing animated educational technology. The following are some animation topics that you could end up studying:

  • Interactive arts aesthetics
  • Culture of technology
  • Digital art
  • Game design
  • Iconography
  • Technology and arts research

Classes and qualifying exams are only two components of earning your doctoral degree in this field. You'll also typically be required to present a dissertation proposal in front of a board of advisors. Once your proposal is approved, you research, write and defend your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Since earning your doctorate in this field is so research-intensive and hands-on, online animation PhD programs are hard to come by. As of September 2012, none were found. You'll most likely need to attend an on-campus program.

Stand Out With This Degree

There are numerous strategies that you can follow to get ahead of the competition in the job market. The following are a handful of suggestions that you might consider:

  • Stay abreast of current animation technologies and keep your computer skills strong. Employers usually have several software-based requirements and may require programming skills.
  • Learning a second language, like Spanish, can help you expand the markets you could potentially find work in.
  • Having research from your dissertation published in a peer-reviewed academic journal can be a solid way to strengthen your resume.

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