Online Animation Degrees & Schools

Learn about what an online animation degree can be like, from the practical and technical requirements to admissions and common courses. Discover some of the career paths available to animation professionals. Schools offering Animation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Online Animation Degrees Overview

If you're interested in pursuing a career in animation, there are a number of educational paths you can take, several of which are available in an online or hybrid format. Many online animation programs offer concentrations so students can focus on gaining skills in the area they are most interested in. Although availability depends upon the school, some concentrations can include 2D or 3D animation, character animation, and visual effects.

The Difference Between Regular and Fine Arts Degrees

Some animation programs may be packaged as a science, arts, or fine arts degree. This mostly has to do with the amount and types of courses in the program. For example, an arts degree will require students to take more general education or liberal arts courses, while a fine arts degree is typically more focused on practical skills and will require students to take more fine arts courses, such as painting, drawing, or sculpting.

Fine arts degrees are usually tailored towards training students in their craft; they may spend more time working on projects and developing their artistic skills. Other degrees may give students time to study and hone their craft but they typically are not as skills-intensive or hands-on as a fine arts degree. Students in regular degree programs may spend more time getting a rounded education.

However, each type of degree can prepare you for success in your chosen field. Take the time to decide how you want to learn and what option will be best for your personal and professional goals.

Levels of Online Animation Degrees

There are 3 levels of animation degrees; associate, bachelor, and master. Each level will have varying requirements, courses, and projects, and each one can prepare you for different professional outcomes.

Associate

Associate's programs in animation typically last 2 years, or around 60 credits, and give students an introductory understanding of the field. Students may spend their time learning new skills and developing their portfolios. Many associate's programs are designed for students to transfer their credits over to a bachelor's program, and a bachelor's degree is the typical entry point for this field, but students may be able to pursue entry-level or freelance work and internships upon graduation.

Bachelor's

Much like an associate's program, bachelor's programs in animation introduce students to college-level art and design courses. However, since the program is usually 2 years longer than an associate's, students have more time to learn new skills and develop existing ones. The courses and projects may also be more intensive. Bachelor's degrees also tend to offer more concentration choices, and the required number of credits is typically around 120. Upon graduation, students can pursue entry-level, freelance, or internship positions like animator, 3D modeler or compositing artist.

Master's

Master's programs in animation typically last 2-3 years, and the number of credits can vary widely from program to program, with some requiring around 50 credits and others closer to 80. and are designed for intensive, advanced study on the subject.

Some schools have both a Master of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts option. The MA option typically culminates in a final project or a portfolio review, where students will submit a portfolio of work that they have developed over the program and have it be graded with professional standards. The MFA option typically culminates in a thesis, which is a long-form project or research paper on a particular subject. Some master's programs require students to participate in an internship while others may just offer internship resources.

Practical Requirements for Online Animation Students

While it is possible to complete an animation degree online, some schools do require students to do an internship on campus or in their area. This can be in the form of a teaching assignment or a position with a company. Students are typically supervised by a faculty member. Internships are usually done towards the end of a student's academic career, and they typically must have acquired a certain number of credits and be in good academic standing. Internships are usually only required for master's-level students, but students at other levels can often pursue one if they choose.

Technology Requirements

Animation students use several software programs to complete their work, such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Toon Boom. Depending on the school, these software programs may be included in their tuition and sent to them, or they may need to acquire them on their own. Some schools will even send students hardware, such as a new laptop with the required programs pre-installed.

Although it can vary by school, a few common technical requirements include:

  • Desktop or laptop computer with adequate storage and up-to-date hard drive
  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Toon Boom - Storyboard Pro
  • Autodesk
  • Pixologic ZBrush

It is important to have hardware and software that is up-to-date or at least able to function smoothly when running animation programs. When looking for schools to apply to, take into consideration the hardware and software each school requires and, if they don't send you any items or only send a few, decide if you are able to get them on your own.

Admissions Requirements for Animation Degrees

As is the case with most degrees, admission requirements (and the associated documentation) for an associate's program are more lenient than a bachelor's and a bachelor's prerequisites are often easier than a master's. All levels of animation degrees may require most or all of the following materials from applicants:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Proof of English proficiency for foreign students
  • Interview with an admissions faculty member
  • Portfolio of relevant work

Some art schools have an open enrollment policy, where students are accepted as long as they provide documentation of a high school diploma or equivalent and other paperwork, such as transcripts. Other schools will have a stricter policy, requiring an interview and materials such as a portfolio in addition.

Graduate Admissions Requirements

When it comes to graduate animation programs, the admissions requirements can be a bit stricter, even if the school has an open enrollment policy. Applicants typically need college transcripts that prove they've graduated from a bachelor's program, a personal essay or statement of intent, a portfolio or demo reel of relevant work, and a CV or resume for any educational and/or professional experience they've had.

Portfolio Requirements

Schools that require students to submit a portfolio typically have guidelines for the layout and contents of the portfolio that applicants will need to adhere to. Specific requirements vary by school, but in general, portfolios need to be work-focused, neat, organized, and easy to see, especially if they are submitted digitally. There is also a limit to how many pieces can be included, and this varies by school. Graduate portfolios will usually be held to higher standards than undergraduate portfolios when being considered for admission.

Common Courses in Animation Degrees

Animation programs typically consist of courses that develop students' artistic and technical skills, such as creating character sketches or learning how to operate animation software. A lot of times, these courses will be repeated throughout a program.

The further a student is in a program, the more advanced and intensive these courses will become. For example, an undergraduate drawing course taken in semester 1 will be introductory. Then the course will have a second part to it in a later semester that dives deeper into the material.

If a student is able to pick a concentration, then their courses will be tailored toward that concentration, but they may still take core courses related to animation in order to gain foundational skills. Some common courses are featured below.

2D/3D Fundamentals

Courses in 2D or 3D fundamentals teach students how to operate software that creates 2D and 3D images and models. Concepts such as texture mapping, lighting, rendering, and modeling are introduced. Students also learn how best to organize all of the files that go into creating a 2D or 3D creation.

Animation

Students typically take multiple animation courses throughout the program. These courses teach students the basic concepts of professional animation. Students may learn about the history of animation, past and present practices, industry standards, and terminology. They may also start to learn practical animation skills, such as working with storyboarding software.

Figure Drawing

Figure drawing courses teach students how to draw the human figure based on observation and then translate it into a 2D or 3D model. Students learn concepts that help their drawings become more accurate, such as proportion, gesture, rhythm, structure, and musculature. Students may also learn how to digitally alter or correct their drawings in a software program and how to use this software to work more efficiently.

Storyboarding

Usually taken towards the end of a bachelor's program or in a graduate program, storyboarding courses teach students how to take their drawings and organize them to form a visual aid in order to produce a cinematic project. A few topics covered can include the different storyboarding stages, story development, camera language, and pitching the story.

Character Design

Character design courses teach students how to build characters, usually in 3D, that are visually appealing and can function in the world they've been created for, whether that be for cinema or games. Students have a chance to learn concepts such as physics, weight, object interaction, proportions, and motion analysis.

Job Options with an Animation Degree

Overall, animators are artists who create illustrations to be used primarily in television, films, and video games that, when edited and put through a software program, can appear to move. These illustrations can be a variety of things, from the scenery in the background of a movie to a specific visual effect or an entire cast of characters. They often work in teams for animation studios, or they may freelance. While much of their job does consist of creating art and using technology, they also may perform other tasks, such as researching upcoming projects, listening to feedback from a client or supervisor, and meeting with clients and other staff members to establish deadlines.

However, there are more jobs in the field of animation than 'animator.' The type of job you have can depend on your education and work experience. For example, someone who specialized their animation education in the field of 3D animation could work solely as a 3D modeler. While this person may still be an animator, their job title and duties are more specific.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for all multimedia artists and animators in 2018 was $72,520. Jobs in the field of animation are expected to grow by 4% between 2018 and 2028.

3D Modeler

A 3D modeler works with special technology to build 3D figures. These figures can be anything from character models to entire environments. A few software programs that 3D modelers commonly work with are 3DS Max, Render, and Mya. While film, television, and video games is a common area for 3D modelers to work in, they can also apply their skills to jobs in the advertising, architecture, engineering, and manufacturing fields. Specializing in 3D animation can prepare an individual for this job.

Stop Motion Animator

Stop motion animation is a special type of animation where, instead of creating 2D or 3D images on a screen, the characters and sets are physically built and then rigged and filmed, frame by frame, to create the illusion of movement. Stop motion animators must have patience, skill, and strong attention to detail because this process is significantly longer and more laborious than regular animation. An animation degree may help, but the specific field of stop motion animation is usually self-taught.

Compositing Artist

A compositing artist is typically in charge of the final appearance of animation. They work closely with other animation staff members, such as special effects artists, to ensure each animation looks consistent with the final project. While an individual can specialize in this area during their education, it is common for junior animators to work their way up to this position.

Art Director

While art directors are not strictly animators, they do play an important part in animation projects. An art director has the final say on how a project looks and it is their responsibility to ensure the staff follows their vision. The staff typically report to them, and they may even train new hires, as well as oversee budgeting. Art directors can have a variety of educational backgrounds, but a degree in animation, as well as working up from junior positions, is common. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for art directors in 2018 was $92,780. Jobs in this profession are expected to grow by 1% between 2018 and 2028.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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