We focus a lot on the modeling-texturing-lighting side of 3D production here, and animation tends to fall by the wayside. In an effort to change that, I figured I'd furnish an answer to a question that's been asked over, and over, and over, all across the internet.
What are the best schools for computer animation?
Picking a school is a pretty huge decision.
In fact, it's probably one of the most important decisions that most people will be faced with in their young lives. Unfortunately, as a high-school senior it's really tough to grasp just how much a single choice can impact the trajectory of your life.
I wish I'd known more when I was picking a university.
I went to a really wonderful college, and I loved every minute of it, but I very much doubt that it was the best school for my specific interests and goals. I went there because it was the most prestigious school I got into, and because I adored the location & campus. Those aren't awful reasons, but they're not really the right ones.
I didn't do nearly enough research, and I wasn't introspective enough at that age to have a good idea what direction I really wanted to take with my life.
You've got a really big advantage.
You're reading this article, which means you're taking the time to research your future. It also means you have an idea as to the specific professional path you're interested in following. If you're still in high-school, pat yourself on the back for getting it right so far!
Before I get into the schools, let me say one final thing.
This article is just one opinion—make sure you read as much as you possibly can before making a final decision. Places like ConceptArt.org and CGTalk have dozens, maybe even hundreds, of forum threads discussing the pros and cons of different university programs in the arts. Take advantage of their knowledge and never be afraid to ask questions!
OK. Let's take a look at some schools:
I think it'd be silly to put them into any sort of numerical order, because within the upper tier personal fit matters a heck of a lot more than some arbitrary ranking. Any one of these schools gives their students the tools for success. It's all up to the student to take advantage of them.
So for the sake of practicality, we'll break things down by location:
- Online: Animation Mentor
Animation Mentor has enough buzz to fill a beehive, but their program is more than capable of living up to the hype. This is a place that cuts right to the chase. You're not studying to become a generalist. You're not learning how to make an independent short film. You're training to become a character animator.
Animation Mentor's lightning focus has proven to be wildly successful, and in just a few short years the school has built a reputation as one of the best places in the world to learn character animation.
- West Coast: CalArts
CalArts has been called the Harvard of the animation world. Absurdly prestigious, massively difficult to get into, and super connected. You'll probably see CalArts on just about every “best-of” list that you look at.
Their real strength has always been their traditional 2D animation program, but the school has done an admirable job transitioning into the CG era and places a strong emphasis on turning out well-rounded artists with valuable skills beyond their immediate discipline.
- East Coast: SVA
SVA is an excellent, excellent choice if you're looking to lean more toward motion graphics, advertising, or even visual effects animation.
The school is in New York, which means you're smack dab in the middle of one of the best places in the world for someone interested in design as it pertains to print, advertising, commercial work, etc. If this is where your interests are, SVA is a much better place to be than a school like CalArts or Ringling, where the film industry is emphasized.
- South: Ringling
When I was in school we used to sit around the lab watching the short films from Ringling over and over again. That's how good they are. When you hear someone mention Ringling, it's usually followed by the statement: "Ringling? Oh yeah, that's where Pixar likes to recruit."
Pixar is a studio that has always emphasized storytelling, and Ringling's goal, first and foremost is to create good storytellers. The culminating experience in their computer animation program is an entire year devoted to the production of an animated short. This is truly one of the best places in the world for a young animator to become acquainted with narrative film-making.
- Canada: Sheridan
What can you say about Sheridan that hasn't already been said? The reputation of their character animation program is one of the strongest in North America, and if CalArts is the Harvard of animation, then Sheridan is Yale. Or Oxford. Or whatever equally prestigious school you fancy comparing it to.
The program is incredibly rigorous, but if you give them your undivided attention you'll come out with an enviable portfolio, a well-rounded skillet, and access to some of the best industry connections available to recent-graduates.
Bournemouth – Bournemouth is intricately connected to the red-hot London animation scene, which means if you come out of Bournemouth with a solid reel then you've got a better than average shot at landing a gig at one of the red-hot London studios like Double Negative or MPC. Sound good? Yeah, it does.
Supinfocom & Gobelins – I admin, unless you're French you're probably not considering either of these, but they both need to be mentioned, because along with Ringling these are some of the best places in the world to get experience working on an a team-based animated short film production. Student work from Supinfocom and Gobelins are a mainstay at animation festivals. Do a YouTube search and prepare to be impressed!
The schools on this list all have fantastic animation programs and they're all very well connected, but at the end of the day, if you're determined enough you can learn animation anywhere.
Say it with me. Anywhere.
A school's reputation is just that, a reputation. An student's individual achievement is almost one hundred percent connected to their level of commitment. One of the advantages of a place like Ringling or CalArts is that they're not afraid to push their students about as hard as it's possible to go.
A dedicated self-learner will probably have trouble matching the pace that students are put through at a top animation school, but if you want it badly enough and you're willing to put in the hours, you don't necessarily need one of the seven school on this list to become a really good animator.
Animation Mentor was brave enough to break from the mold of the traditional brick and mortar school and it's payed off for them in spades. Their program is rock solid, and even in an era where online education is still looked down upon, there are many who AM to be the single best character animation program in the world.
For some would-be animators, that's absolutely the case, for others it might not necessarily be true.
Ultimately, the best animation school in the world, is the one that provides the best fit for an individual student, based on his or her own interests, needs, sensibilities, and learning styles.