Animation School: Do you need to go?

What is the best animation school?

The big question, do you have to go to animation school?

A degree in animation will definitely prepare you for a job in animation. Whether you want to get a traditional 9 to 5 job in a studio or work as a freelance artist. Learning everything from storyboarding, character design, animation writing, 2D and 3D animation techniques, editing, painting, color theory, and more.

I have a BFA in Character Animation from the Disney founded CalArts. The four years I spent there was an amazing experience. I made a lot of great friends, had accomplished teachers, learned software and techniques I never knew even existed.

Animation school was essential for me at that time.

Is animation school a requirement?

Going to an animation school is not a requirement for working in the animation industry.

If you are self-initiating and know where to find critical feedback as you're learning all the key skills for working in animation. You can create a portfolio to land you in a specific role in an animation studio.

If you don't want to get a traditional job, you can find resources teaching you how to make your own films. Then you can start finding your own clients to pay you to make films for things like advertising and branding.

There are thousands of people with successful careers and businesses in animation who never attended a formal animation school.

Animation opportunities and jobs

In fact, as soon as I graduated from animation school, I immediately left Los Angeles and started my own location independent art business. Among the key services included animation.

I bring this up to show you there are more opportunities for working in animation than just getting a job at one of the famous animation studios everyone knows about. Such as Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, among others.

The list of animation schools I'm listing below does a good job of teaching you all of these things.

How to pick an animation school

Working in animation is quite labor-intensive. To be executed correctly, animators must be artistic, innovative, talented, and up-to-date on the latest computer technology and animation software.

But being successful in animation is more than being a good assembly line worker. Getting a job or clients depends on more than just knowing how to use a specific program. What you need is a powerful portfolio than showcases your creativity.

In order to showcase your creativity, you need your own film. At least one.

You need your own animated film because it shows studios and clients you know animation as a whole. While also showcasing creative vision and style.

On top of teaching you the core skills, a great animation school will encourage you to experiment and grow as an artist,

Students should already know how to learn drawing. Once they know how to draw from life, then they can learn all the skills needed to make an animated film. Such as story, writing, character design, storyboarding, concept art, 2D and 3D animation software and techniques, stop motion, and more.

In this article, I provide a list of the best animation schools in the United States. Plus other alternatives to animation school.

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Character Animation Program

First up, CalArts. CalArts has been educating students since 1970, Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast have ranked CalArts as the nation’s top college of the arts. The likes of Tim Burton, the founders of Pixar, and many other key players in the animation industry have walked it's hallways.

Founded by Walt Disney to house all the arts under one roof. CalArts is home to one of the best animation programs in the world. The Character Animation Program.

Offering a BFA in Character Animation. The Character Animation program is focused on teaching traditional storytelling and narrative films.

The Character Animation program is one of the hardest programs to get accepted due to the rigorous portfolio requirements. You have to know how to draw the figure and from life extremely well prior to getting into CalArts.

In order to keep up with the program classes, you need to be comfortable drawing anything. If you aren't adept at drawing from life, you'll quickly fall behind. Another reason for the rigorous drawing requirements is so you can convey character emotion and storytelling quickly through drawing.

Basically, if you have a creative idea, you have to know how to communicate it through drawings without any friction.

Most students who are accepted into the Character Animation program have been studying figure drawing and drawing from life in their sketchbooks for at least 2-3 years prior to applying.

In my case, I went to community college for three years prior to CalArts in order to get my portfolio ready. Getting all of my general education requirements out of the way and enrolling in life drawing classes. Drawing from a live, nude model, drawing at the San Diego Zoo, and drawing throughout the day from life around me for at least 20 hours a week – for three years.

Ringling College of Art and Design

Founded in 1931, Ringling College excels in propelling students into the real world of art through substantive internships, national competitions, cutting-edge technology, and client projects (to name a few).

Savannah College of Art & Design

Embracing a forward-looking approach to artistic academia, SCAD is a student-centered institution determined to provide educational excellence within the context of a positive learning environment. Students learn to create art, as well as live creatively artistic lives.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Nestled amidst the picturesque New England seaboard, Rhode Island School of Design has long been one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious colleges offering rigorous art programs at both an undergraduate and graduate level.

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Founded in 1947, SVA is a for-profit art and design educational institution located in New York offering 11 bachelor’s programs and 20 graduate options. SVA emphasizes excellence in expression and responsible industry participation.


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