If your dream is to become an animator, online masters in animation degrees can help you hone your skill set in this competitive field.
Some animators use their technical and filmmaking skills to tell stories that inspire and entertain people all over the world. Apart from working in the animated film and TV industry, animators are also frequently called upon to produce content for businesses, advertisements, and video games.
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Movies and video graphics are expected to continue improving over the years, so pursuing an animation masters degree can be a great opportunity to solidify your skills.
Online Masters in Animation Degrees
A graduate degree in animation can help you further your artistic, technical, and design skills necessary for the field. Programs usually result in one of the following degrees:
- MA in Animation: A Master of Arts degree often has a more balanced spread of liberal arts and fine arts courses. It’s generally seen as a broader option that allows you to explore different avenues.
- MFA in Animation: A Master of Fine Arts degree is more specialized and contains a larger percentage of fine arts courses compared to an MA program. MFA programs are more focused on preparing students for careers in animation.
No matter which degree path you choose, masters in animation programs typically have a number of different focuses. This makes sense since there are so many aspects in the animation production process.
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Here are a couple common specializations that you may choose from:
- 3D animation: Perhaps one of the more popular animation concentrations today, 3D animation focuses on modeling and animation techniques as well as special visual effects and rendering.
- Storyboarding: You may also focus on storyboarding, which is the process of planning and developing a visual set of images of your animation.
- Motion graphics: Also called motion design, motion graphics takes graphic design elements and brings them to life using animation techniques.
Ultimately, many graduates move on to work as multimedia artists and animators in the film, TV, or video game industries. They’ll usually work as a specialist in their concentration, such as a character and background designer.
As digital media continues to be a crucial part of many business campaigns, animators may also find work in a variety of industries. For example, many animators work to produce advertisements, video graphics, or engaging educational content.
Animation Careers & Salaries
Animators can work across a number of different industries. The title animator is broad, so it’s often broken down into more specific positions and duties.
For example, in a typical film production, you may have dedicated special effects artists, storyboarding artists, and character designers. For the purposes of gathering salary information, though, they are all generally classified under the animator job title.
Animators may also work hand in hand with software companies to produce software that is user-friendly to other animators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here is median salary data for animators and similar occupations.
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Special Effects Artists and Animators, Motion Picture and Video Industries||$92,250|
|Special Effects Artists and Animators, Software Publishers||$82,330|
|Web Developers and Digital Designers||$77,200|
|Producers and Directors||$76,400|
|Special Effects Artists and Animators, Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services||$73,820|
|Special Effects Artists and Animators, Computer Systems Design and Related Services||$69,200|
|Film and Video Editors||$67,250|
|Craft and Fine Artists||$49,120|
At an overall median salary of $77,700, special effects artists and animators generally see higher salary numbers than the median for all arts and design professions, which is $49,600 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
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In addition, employment for special effects artists and animators is expected to rise on pace with the overall economy at 4% job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the increased demand for more realistic video games, mobile applications, and movie special effects as factors for this general uptrend.
Animation Master’s Curriculum & Courses
Coursework in an animation master degree program may contain the following:
- Principles of Animation: This is a fundamental course on common techniques in animation, and it usually involves a survey of award-winning Hollywood classics.
- History of Animation: You’ll learn about the history and development of animation as a popular art form.
- Storytelling: You’ll explore common motifs and techniques to effectively write and tell animated stories.
- Storyboarding: This course walks you through how to take an original story and convert it into a complete storyboard through planning and character development.
- Character Design and Development: You’ll learn the complete works on how to develop an animated character using principles of design, such as tone, color, texture, shape, and mood.
- Animation Production: This course focuses more on the overall production process of animated films, a must-take for future film producers.
- Computer Animation: A staple in modern animation, this course teaches students how to use computer software programs to produce animations.
- 3D Modeling: You’ll discover key techniques in modern 3D modeling as well as rigging and rendering fundamentals. Usually, the course also covers usage of modeling tools, such as Maya or Blender.
- Drawing in Motion: This course helps you develop life drawing skills, with emphasis on how to represent fluid motion in drawing.
- Lighting and Texturing: You’ll cover how to replicate real-world environments to produce realistic lighting and texturing in animations.
Additional courses that focus on different stages of the production cycle, such as pre-production and post-production steps, might be taken as electives for certain concentrations.
While admission requirements can vary depending on the program, the criteria for most animation masters programs may include:
- Bachelor’s degree. Most, if not all, masters programs will require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in animation or a related field.
- Portfolio. Certain programs may ask you to submit a digital portfolio of previous animated works. Different schools may have different portfolio requirements.
- Letters of recommendation. Schools may also require anywhere from one to three letters of recommendation from past professors or industry professionals.
Official undergraduate transcripts as well as standardized test scores may or may not be necessary, depending on the program.
Regional accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when picking out potential programs. Accredited institutions have met predefined standards that ensure the educational quality of their programs.
Whether or not your program is accredited can have both immediate and future implications. For example, only students who attend accredited programs are usually eligible for federal or state financial aid.
Later on, employers tend to prefer candidates with degrees from accredited institutions. To ensure that your program is accredited, you can visit the US Department of Education and look at their database of accredited schools.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
A master’s degree in animation can be quite the investment, so it’s always strategic to see what your options are in terms of financial aid and scholarships.
If you’re currently in industry, you can check with your company to see if they have a program that supports continuing education for employees. You may also be able to work out a schedule where you continue working part-time as you pursue your degree.
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Whether or not you’re in industry, you may be able to find scholarships offered by schools or other professional organizations that support animation students. Many of these scholarships require you to submit a piece of work to demonstrate merit.
Last but not least, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will determine your eligibility for both federal and state loans.
Animation Professional Organizations
One way to build connections with peers and other industry professionals is to get involved with a professional organization in animation, such as one of the following:
Becoming a member can help you expand your horizons and discover new ways people are producing media art and animation. These professional organizations can also help members find employment opportunities through private company information sessions and other career-building events.
Is Animation a Good Career?
Yes, animation is a good career for many professionals. The median salary for special effects artists and animators is higher than average at $77,700 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Those who have a passion for art typically find animation to be a rewarding field.
While many animators pursue work in multimedia arts industries, this isn’t a predetermined path by any means. Many animators find fulfilling work producing animations for all kinds of industries that need help with media and general content creation.
How Much Does an Animator Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special effects artists and animators make a median salary of around $77,700 per year, with the top 10% earning more than $142,750.
Animators in the motion picture and video industries tend to see the highest wages, followed by those working for software publishers and advertising related services. Many animators work a typical full-time job in animation, but since the trend for remote work has risen over the years, more animators are taking on contracted work.
How Hard Is It to Get a Job in Animation?
For many who self-identify as creative and artistic, pursuing animation is a natural decision. In terms of job outlook and competition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 4% job growth for special effects artists and animators over the next decade, which is an average pace.
Location may also play a role in job availability. Certain animation hotspots around the world, such as California, may have an influx of aspiring animators, making job competition in these areas particularly fierce.
What Degree Do You Need to Be an Animator?
For most entry-level animation positions, the bare minimum requirement is a bachelors degree in animation. You may be able to get around this requirement if you have a strong portfolio that demonstrates your abilities.
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Unlike some other industries, a masters-level degree in animation is usually not required to enter higher-level roles, with experience usually playing a larger factor. That being said, some high-level roles will still require a masters degree, with some studios preferring an MFA.
What Can You Do with a Masters in Animation?
The next step for many masters graduates is to work in multimedia art or film industries. Animators can also find work in a variety of industries you might not expect, including forensics, insurance, and education.
- Forensics: Forensic scientists may hire animators to help recreate a crime scene virtually.
- Insurance: Insurance companies may call upon animators to create advertisements for their services.
- Education: Businesses and universities may hire animators to produce training and orientation videos.
In addition, animators can also work closely with software firms, particularly those that produce animation software.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Masters Degree in Animation?
Depending on the program, a typical master’s degree in animation requires around 45 credit hours and can take around 2 years to complete. This is assuming that you’re enrolled full-time and that your program contains a final thesis.
Some degrees require only 36 credit hours, and these can often be completed in 1 year when studying full-time and taking summer courses. It may take you longer if you attend part-time or have to complete a thesis.
On the other hand, MFA in Animation degrees may have more requirements at around 65 credit hours. These degree programs can typically take around 3 years to complete along with a final thesis.
What’s the Difference Between Anime vs. Animation?
Anime is a specific form of animation created by the Japanese. Anime usually differs from animation in the following aspects:
You can often see anime’s focus of character reflected in produced works, where anime characters have more unique features but choppier movements and frames.
What’s the Difference Between CGI vs. Animation?
CGI stands for computer generated imagery. It is the most general term for describing anything visual that’s created and rendered by computers. Here are some ways in which it differs from animation:
CGI is also referred to as 3D animation. Modern animators combine principles of animation with powerful CGI software in their daily work to create the best quality motion pictures.
Is a Masters in Animation Worth It?
Yes, a masters in animation is worth it for many students. If your career goals are centered around inspiring and educating through animation, an MA or MFA in Animation may be a great next step for you.
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With healthy job growth for special effects artists and animators expected over the next decade, now may be a strategic time to earn a master’s degree. Over the course of your program, you may be able to enhance your animation portfolio as well as your skill set.
Universities Offering Online Masters in Animation Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer animation degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
Academy of Art University offers a Master of Arts in Animation and Visual Effects. To graduate, students must complete a final portfolio and have a minimum C grade in all 36 required credits.
Online classes last either 7.5 or 15 weeks long. Those interested in the program must submit an online application, official transcripts, a personal resume, and a portfolio.
Academy of Art University is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Arizona State University offers an online Master of Science in Graphic Information Technology.
The program covers a variety of courses in graphics, cross media design, and management. Many students joining the program have an animation background. To graduate, students must complete 30 credit hours, with classes lasting 7.5 or 15 weeks long.
Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Columbia University offers an online Computer Science Master’s in Vision, Graphics, Interaction and Robotics.
Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.3 and submit their general GRE test scores. The program is designed to have an emphasis in graphics and requires students to take courses in animation. The program requires 30 credits to be completed with a GPA of 2.7 to graduate.
Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
DePaul University offers a Master of Science in Game Programming. The program is designed to teach students about each step of game development, including animation and graphics.
To graduate, students need to complete 52 credit hours while maintaining a minimum GPA of 2.5. Applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher and need to submit official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended.
DePaul University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Fairleigh Dickinson University offers an online Masters of Arts in Animation. Students must choose between 3 concentrations: 3D Character Animation, Visual Effects, or Video Games. To graduate, a total of 36 credits must be obtained. Applicants must have 2 letters of recommendation, a digital portfolio, and a GPA of 2.7.
Fairleigh Dickinson University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Kennesaw State University offers an online program for a Master of Arts in Art and Design with a concentration in Digital Animation. The program usually takes a year to complete. Applicants must submit a letter of application, a demo reel of animation, official transcripts from all post-secondary institutes attended, and a resume.
Kennesaw State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Liberty University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. With courses that last 8 weeks, the program can typically be completed within 2 years. Students in the program take classes on interactive game design and 3D graphics. Applicants must submit an artist statement, a portfolio, and college transcripts.
Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Lindenwood University offers an online program for a Master of Arts in Digital and Web Design.
The program requires 36 credit hours to graduate and includes courses in commercial animation and video effects. Students may choose to complete a thesis or an applied project to graduate. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, 3 academic or professional references, and a statement of purpose.
Lindenwood University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Lipscomb University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Animation. The program requires 62 credit hours and a thesis project and can usually be completed in 3 years. Applicants must submit standardized exam scores, all official transcripts, a personal statement, and a digital portfolio of 10 to 15 works related to animation.
Lipscomb University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Northeastern University offers an online Master’s in Digital Media program. Students choose one of three areas of concentration for their degree, each with their own specializations.
Those interested in the program must submit an online application with a statement of purpose, transcripts from post-secondary institutions, and 2 letters of recommendation.
Northeastern University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Pace University offers an online program for a Master of Science in Software Development and Engineering.
The program teaches students how to develop and upgrade software, including the design. To graduate, students must finish 36 credits and a capstone project. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a bachelor’s degree and proof of experience in software development.
Pace University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The Savannah College of Art and Design offers both an MA and an MFA in Animation. While the MA degree only requires 45 credit hours, the MFA requires 90 credit hours to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and need to submit a portfolio, 2 letters of recommendation, and a resume.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Baltimore offers an online program for a Master of Science in Interaction Design and Information Architecture.
The program allows students to learn about design and building structures, which can help with making accurate backgrounds. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 and 2 letters of recommendation.
The University of Baltimore is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The University of South Carolina offers a Master of Science in Computer Science with an emphasis in Game Development. The program includes courses in animation and character design. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in computer science and need to submit transcripts, a resume, and a personal statement.
The University of South Carolina is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The University of Wisconsin—Stout offers a Master of Fine Arts in Design with the option to tailor the degree towards animation and digital media. Applicants must submit a visual portfolio with 15 to 20 examples of creative work, a written statement of interest, and 3 letters of reference.
University of Wisconsin-Stout is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Getting Your Masters in Animation Degree Online
As people continue to expect new and improved animations on the big screen and beyond, the demand for animators should see an increase as well.
If you’re wanting to advance your skills and gain a competitive edge, you may consider pursuing a masters in animation degree online, or, if you are interested in a broader field, a multimedia degree online.
Technology continues to rapidly develop in the animation tools and software space. Businesses and organizations continue to seek animators who are fluent in using these tools in addition to having a strong background in animation.
You can begin the next step in your artistic journey by finding online accredited masters programs in animation that can help you achieve your career goals.