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Online Animation Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

There are a number of degree programs available to students who want to pursue a career in animation, including a few online options. Depending on the student's career goals, he or she can pursue a degree in animation, motion graphics, visual effects or game art.

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Online animation programs are fairly common, but students need to ensure that a program's level of study is suited to their needs and that they can meet any computer hardware and software requirements. This article will detail the key points of each type of online animation program and point you towards some schools that offer such programs.

How to Select an Online Animation School

Since many animation programs are fine arts programs, acceptance into the program can depend on the applicant's portfolio of work. Animators utilize software programs to design animations that are used in advertising, film, video games and other media. Student's should decide whether they wish to earn a bachelor's or master's degree. The technical requirements for completing the work in each program should also be considered before making a decision.

Award Level

The most popular degree for animators is a bachelor's degree in animation, visual effects or game art design. A master's degree program can offer students additional software skills and time to develop a strong portfolio of creative work, which is essential to a successful career as an animator.

Technical Requirements

It's recommended that students possess a device capable of supporting large animation and graphics files. Some animation programs may require students to purchase additional hardware (like a digital camera and printer) and software, which might include Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Maya.

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List of Popular Online Animation Programs

Online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation

The online Bachelor of Fine Arts is a 4-year degree program that offers students a strong base in humanities and liberal arts in addition to specific animation skills. Students are introduced to animation history courses that review the development of linear and nonlinear animation techniques, storyboarding, compositing, modeling and experimental animation. Students create a professional portfolio or demonstration reel that shows their skill and talent in animation, drawing, storytelling and design principles such as composition and presentation. Students take courses in:

  • Storyboard design
  • Character animation and motion studies
  • Stop motion animation
  • Virtual environments

Online Bachelor of Science in Game Art and Design

Students enrolled in this program often begin by taking a core of humanities, communication and new media courses, and students may be able to focus their studies in animation or visual effects. The curriculum covers the basics of media art and emphasizes technological aptitude rather than storyboard development. Much of the time, students work to master some of the top software while developing their portfolio of game-related animation. Students take courses in:

  • 2-D and 3-D modeling
  • Texture mapping for games
  • Observational and perspective drawing
  • Advanced level design

Online Master of Fine Arts in Animation and Visual Effects

An online master's degree program offers students the opportunity to review and expand on animation principles and techniques learned in the undergraduate program, but with a focus on individual creative development and professional studio practice. Over the 2-year course of study, students have a chance to strengthen their portfolios and experiment with new software techniques and storyboard ideas. Successful graduates have an advanced working knowledge of professional tools and programs utilized by animators. Students learn about:

  • Software for modeling and animation
  • Animation and technology history
  • Mixed media and traditional animation
  • Preproduction principles
  • 3D workflow of animation

Schools with Online Programs in Animation

The Academy of Art University in San Francisco offers online programs in animation and visual effects at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Students need to meet minimum technical requirements, which include an up-to-date browser and computer system as well as a webcam, scanner and the necessary Adobe software (some of which can be downloaded for free). Undergraduate students can submit a portfolio to enhance their application, but these materials are only required for admission to the school's graduate-level programs.

Another relevant option is Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which offers an online animation program at the bachelor's degree level. Students will need to have personal computers with sufficiently up-to-date operating systems. Computer hardware and software requirements include a Wacom Tablet, Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Autodesk. Students must also submit a portfolio along with their admissions materials.

You may also want to consider the 3D modeling and animation bachelor's degree program offered by Southern New Hampshire University. A number of software programs are required for this program, including the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite (which is provided free of charge to students) and Adobe Creative Suite. Students are also required to have a computer running Microsoft Windows.

Animation programs are a good choice for students who want to earn a degree online, but applicants should thoroughly research a school's programs and the relevant costs and technical requirements before making a decision. They should also consider what kind of focus they want to have throughout their degree program, as some focus on the technical aspects of animation design while others emphasize the development of artistic skills.

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