Special Effects Schools and Colleges in the U.S.

A special effects instructional program helps students prepare for careers working in television, in film and in other visual media. Most schools offering special effects programs concentrate on the animation aspect of the process.

How to Select a Special Effects School

Special visual effects are often part of an art major and can be listed as animation, computer arts, digital arts or media arts, among others. Programs are available at many 2- and 4-year colleges and at universities.

Consider the following when looking for special effects schools:

  • Most visual effects seen today are created on computers, rather than optically, incorporating 3D spatial relationships as well as 2D photographic content.
  • Schools should offer the latest software, such as Maya, After Effects, Nuke and 3D Studio Max.
  • Some schools offer students online galleries to show their works.

Program Overviews

Certificate Programs

A 1-2 year certificate program can be found at many community colleges. A certificate can be useful for an entry-level position as a video artist. Students are immersed in various aspects of the art, including:

  • Computer graphics
  • 2D and 3D digital imaging
  • Animation

Associate's Degree Programs

Also found at many 2-year community colleges are associate's degree programs in the visual arts. Classes are divided between the required general education classes and the selection of computer graphics course work. Students learn about:

  • Character development
  • Modeling
  • Writing
  • Storyboarding

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs with a focus on animation are widely offered as well. Visual art techniques can apply to print and Web design as well as to more complex live action video and animation. Bachelor's degree programs require a core liberal arts curriculum in addition to immersion in the major, and some also require a thesis. Students learn about:

  • Video editing
  • Graphic arts
  • Drawing
  • Storyboarding
  • Lighting

10 Schools with Special Effects Programs

College/University Institution Type
Northwest Vista College 2-year, Public
New Mexico State University 2-year, Public
Pratt Institute 4-year, Private
Long Island University Brooklyn 4-year, Private
Mercy College 4-year, Private
Savannah College of Art and Design 4-year, Private
Douglas Education Center 2-year, Private
Columbia College Chicago 4-year, Private
Middle Tennessee State University 4-year, Public
Forsyth Technical Community College 2-year, Public

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