Degree programs in animation are available at the associate, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Students looking to learn basic or intermediate animation techniques may enroll in an associate's or bachelor's program. Further training in using more complex animation and computer-generated techniques are offered to master's degree students. Through these programs, students explore graphic design, special effects, motion graphics and storyboarding. Most programs have extensive hands-on studio requirements.
Associate's programs require a high school diploma or GED. Students applying to bachelor's and master's programs typically need to submit a portfolio showcasing their best work. Applying to graduate school is often a competitive process. Standardized graduate tests scores, college transcripts and recommendation letters are typically required, and a thesis project is generally completed at the culmination of a master's program. Upon graduation, students could explore career opportunities in film, advertising, video game design, publishing or Web design.
Associate of Arts in Animation
A 2-year degree program in animation teaches students the fundamentals of cartooning, 3D computer animation, modeling and character development. Students also learn how to use animation software, and create images and storylines using a blend of traditional and technologically-enhanced methods. Programs may include these courses:
- Life drawing
- Character modeling
- Design fundamentals
- Animation techniques
- Digital imaging
Bachelor of Arts in Computer Animation
A bachelor's degree program builds on animation fundamentals and delves into character development, storytelling, visual imaging and animation software. Students are expected to hone their creativity and deepen their understanding of design and character development. Students also learn hand-drawn techniques, storyboarding and layout. Emphasis is placed on using technology to develop cartoons, images and graphics. Courses may include:
- 2D and 3D design
- Computer-aided animation
- Electronic imaging
- Stop motion animation
- Special effects and compositing
- Animation modeling
Master of Fine Arts in Animation
A master's degree program in animation builds upon an individual's training in animation and cartooning. A strong foundation in traditional drawing techniques is essential for this program. Graduate students learn animation techniques using advanced technological processes, and develop problem-solving skills, creativity and professionalism. Visual storytelling is emphasized, and students learn how to elicit an emotional response for the intended audience. Program curriculum generally includes a thesis project. Below is a list of some common courses:
- Cartoon drawing in motion
- Animation practice and aesthetics
- 3D cartoon character development
- Storyboarding and narration
- Experimental animation design
- Cartoon and animation media
Popular Career Options
Entry-level animator positions typically require a degree or practical experience. Those holding a master's degree may qualify for administrative positions where visual creativity is required. Many cartoon animator positions are opening up in fields outside the entertainment industry, creating new career opportunities for aspiring animators. Graduates may find employment as graphic or special effects animators, Internet or print media cartoonists, video game or mixed media animators, children's book or medical illustrators, advertising graphic artists or television animators. Other potential career options include:
- Production artist
- Art director
- Art professor
- Software publisher animator
- Animation producer
- Storyboard and conceptual artist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the annual mean wage for multimedia artists and animators in the motion picture and video industries as $73,270 in May 2015. Those in advertising, public relations and related services earned an annual mean wage of $65,480. The employment outlook for multimedia artists and animators is expected to increase by 6% from 2014-2024, as the demand for visual images in multiple industries grow, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Those seeking to advance their animation and cartooning skills may consider enrolling in a bachelor's or master's degree program in animation, computer animation, graphic design or multimedia. Management professionals, such as art directors typically need a 4-year college degree in art administration or a related field.
Depending on a student's goals and level of expertise, they'll be able to find a college program related to cartoon animation to match their needs, with options available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Completion of a program can then potentially lead to a career in a growing field that now touches many different industries.