Distance learning undergraduate programs in animation are most commonly found at private, for-profit four-year institutions. In addition to programs leading directly to associate's and bachelor's degrees solely in animation, some schools offer online animation coursework as part of their programs in interactive media, Web design and media arts.
Completing an online associate's degree in this field is designed to take about two years, while bachelor's programs may take around four; however, this is dependent on a school's specific program schedules as well as a student's enrollment status. Students learn to create Web-enabled graphics and apply these in a variety of areas, such as advertising, instructional and marketing materials, webpages and multimedia projects.
Students interested in studying animation should feel comfortable working with computers and navigating programs regardless of where they study, but those seeking online education should be particularly confident in using computers to complete tasks independently. Schools utilize virtual classroom environments so that students can access lecture materials, watch instructional videos, use interactive media and complete assignments or tests. There are also tools for communicating with instructors and other classmates, such as online discussion boards and chat rooms.
Depending on the program, students may be required to purchase specific software packages, such as Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, or ZBrush. Students must also have specific hardware, such as a tablet and stylus.
Individuals enrolled in an online animation undergraduate degree program complete coursework mirroring the requirements of on-campus classes. Some of the major subjects covered include animation of characters and images, fundamental design principles, essential software programs and Web content management.
Courses that are commonly offered in online associate's degree programs that include or focus on animation may examine the following:
- Fundamentals of digital imaging
- Figure drawing and modeling
- Web design
- 3-D Modeling
- Web animation
- Multimedia design for instruction
- Texturing and lighting
- Information design
- Design and color
In addition to taking the courses offered on the associate degree level, candidates for bachelor's degrees may also study these topics:
- Node-based compositing
- Flash animation
- Character rigging
- Ecorche (figure drawing of musculature)
- Creating game characters
- Animation production
- Organic modeling
- Evaluating and manipulating digital photography
- Matchmoving (adding animation to live-action footage)
- Creating a portfolio
Due to the nature of the work, those studying a subject like animation online typically have stricter computer requirements than other programs. Schools may dictate what kind of computer operating system a student needs and certain software packages will likely have to be purchased from the school or a software company.
Minimum Hardware Requirements
To support some of the required software programs, especially Autodesk Maya, the following minimum hardware is often recommended:
- Windows: Intel Pentium 4 or higher, AMD Athlon 64, or AMD Opteron processor
- Macintosh: Intel-based Macintosh computers
- 2 GB RAM
- 2 GB free hard drive space
- Qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card
- Three-button mouse with mouse driver software
- DVD-ROM drive
- Tablet and stylus
Common Software Requirements
The software varies, but the most commonly mentioned software programs are listed below:
- Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0 or higher (.NET recommended) (free download)
- Microsoft DirectX 9.0c Software Development Kit (free download)
- 3DS Max
- Adobe Flash
- Adobe Photoshop
- Autodesk Maya
In their thinking, people often limit digital animation to video games and other entertainment special effects. However, there are also many animator jobs in fields such as science, medicine and education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a six percent job growth for multimedia artists and animators between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Because the number of graduates is greater than the available positions in this field, strong competition is to be expected for jobs. Most employers expect animators and multimedia artists to have a bachelor's degree.
BLS data from May 2015 shows that multimedia artists and animators earned an average wage of $70,300. Industries with the highest levels of employment for professionals in this field include video and motion pictures, computer systems design, software publishers and public relations or advertising.
Animation programs are available online at the undergraduate level and are similar to courses taken on-campus. Students must have the hardware and software needed for this program to complete it online.