Online Schools for Visual Effects and Motion Graphics: How to Choose

Jul 19, 2018

Associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in fields like graphic design or animation and visual effects are widely available at community colleges and 4-year schools. Online program formats aren't as common as on-campus formats, but they are available.

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Visual Effects and Graphics Schools

Learn more about what to look for in a visual effects and motion graphics school. Review what types of programs and degree levels are offered, and discover a couple schools that offer them online.

Factors in Choosing Online Schools

With the popularity of three-dimensional movies and computer-generated animation, students with an interest in art and design may find training in visual effects and motion graphics beneficial. Some schools offer these subjects as standalone courses as well as degree programs, either fully online or through a hybrid approach, which allows students to learn online and on-campus. Students should then weigh the program level and type with design experience necessary and software requirements.

Type of Program

While visual effects and motion graphics have many similarities, there are differences as well. Visual effects, which can consist of digital animation, green screening or miniature scale modeling, are meticulously created to make an environment look believable. Motion graphics, on the other hand, utilize audio, video and animation techniques to create the impression of moving objects. Students should decide if one of these fields is a better fit.

Program Level

When choosing a visual effects or motion graphics program, students should consider whether they want to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. Students pursuing a visual effects career should look for online programs that offer training in design disciplines, such as animation and character design. When researching an online school for motion graphics, students should make sure the school has an independent motion graphics program or offers motion graphics classes in a design program such as broadcast media or graphic design.

Software Requirements

Since the use of software is a crucial element in professional design, online programs typically require students to have a laptop or dedicated computer, along with enough storage space to save large digital design and movie files. Students interested in creating visual effects should seek out courses that use design and graphic editing software. Those considering a career in motion graphics should look for programs that feature training in various types of computer-generated animation and video editing software.

Design Experience

When choosing an online school to study visual effects and motion graphics, applicants should be aware of their design skill set. Most design programs offer beginner courses to introduce students to the field of design. Some schools seek students with intermediate to advanced computer skills, such as experience in photo or video editing.

Associate's in Animation and Graphics

A distance learning associate's degree program in animation and visual effects will usually include general education classes, with the bulk of the curriculum on core topics. To become acclimated to visual effects, some programs have students take an introduction to animation course designed specifically for computer graphics. Courses cover:

  • Audio and video production
  • Editing for animation and visual effects
  • 2D and 3D animation
  • History of animation

Since graphic design can cover a broad area of technology and art, students usually complete a beginner graphic design class where they can learn the basics of topics such as computer animation, 2D and 3D modeling and drawing. Other coursework can include:

  • Typography
  • Web graphic arts design
  • Photo image editing
  • Electronic publishing

Bachelor's in Animation and Graphics

Some online bachelor's degree programs honor transfer college credits from other programs or schools, which allows students to complete this program at an accelerated pace. To help bachelor's degree students advance their knowledge of visual effects, many programs encourage students to practice drawing and modeling in preparation for creating animation projects. Course topics include:

  • Mixed media animation
  • Environment creation
  • Rotoscoping
  • Fundamentals of texturing and lighting

Bachelor's degree students should look for online graphic design programs that offer specific training in motion graphics and the opportunity to work on independent study projects. Online bachelor's degree students often have coursework in:

  • Visual communication
  • Digital tool design applications
  • Package design
  • Photography for designers

Master's in Animation and Graphics

Students at the master's degree level typically complete professional portfolios or independent study programs as part of their degree program. Graduate students build their visual effects skills through advanced classes in areas like:

  • Maquette sculpting
  • 2D production and layout
  • Stop motion animation
  • Hard surface modeling

At the graduate level, online graphic design students may have the opportunity to work on projects for the Internet, television and film. An internship or thesis may be required to complete a master's program. Classes often cover:

  • Information design
  • Form refinements
  • Nature of interaction
  • Visual systems

Online Schools for Motion Graphics

The Academy of Art University offers online Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in animation and visual effects. For all program levels, students will receive one-on-one guidance and support from professors and university staff as they work to complete their degree. They can also participate in class discussion boards to interact with their fellow classmates.

Students will need an up-to-date Internet browser in addition to software that includes Photoshop. The undergraduate programs require that students maintain at least a C- GPA in all core coursework. M.A. students will complete a final portfolio review before completing the program, while M.F.A students must complete a final thesis project.

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and Media Arts program. Students can choose from two concentrations: either 3D modeling in animation or web design. To complete this program, students will need access to the following hardware and software: either a Mac Book Pro 15 inch or iMac 27 inch, with Mac OS X 10.7 or higher or a PC with Windows 7/8/8.1.

A DSLR camera and Adobe Creative Cloud are also among the requirements.

Students interested in earning an online visual effects and motion graphics degree have a wide number of options to choose from. They may want to consider the specific focus area of the program, the level at which it is offered, and the various software and hardware requirements before deciding.

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