Special Effects Schools and Colleges in the U.S.

Special effects can be created on a film set or or digitally on computers. 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. Keep reading to learn about training in this field.

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.


  • Type of special effects
  • Training in software
  • Portfolio preparation

Type of Special Effects

Most visual effects seen today are created on computers, rather than optically. These incorporate 3D spatial relationships as well as 2D photographic content. Schools specifically dedicated to practical on-set special effects, such as gunshots, squibs, air cannons, explosions and car crashes, are few and are usually highly specialized as part of the film industry. Such content is usually taught at small private for-profit schools by veterans of the industry. Stuntmen can learn about explosives, being lit on fire, specialty driving, gunshot wounds and a variety of techniques in specialized programs that are generally short.

Training in Software

Schools should offer the latest software, such as Maya, After Effects, Nuke and 3D Studio Max. Students who are proficient on these platforms have easier times transitioning into a professional visual effects career.

Portfolio Preparation

Some schools offer students online galleries to show their works. An impressive portfolio can be valuable when applying for jobs after graduation and can attract job opportunities while still in school.

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

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