13 Best Animation Schools in California

Not only is California the city in the USA with the best national parks and scenic beaches but also the hub of animation schools. There are so many animation schools in California that it is so hard to pick one.

However, to grow into a hot animator, you need to have the best education and training. You must study an animation degree program in one of the best animation schools in California.

If you live in California and have a passion for animation, you already know that California houses your dreams. However, if you live in other parts of the United States, you may have to rush down to California to actualize your dream of becoming a top animator.

In this post, we will share with you the best colleges in California to grab a degree in animation to kick-start your career. We will also show you the cheapest animation schools in California from the best. But first, let’s discuss why you need to study animation in California.

Kindly see the table of contents below to have an overview.

Why Study Animation in California?

There is just no better state in the US to study animation than California. California is where you will find the number of established animators and multimedia artists in the USA.

Therefore, all year round, you’ll find creative students heading to California. For this reason, there are up to 70 colleges in California offering animation programs.

Also, besides the scores of animation schools in California, the animation industry seem to be stamped there.

There is almost no question of “what next?” after completing your education in one of the top animation schools we’ll be listing. Also, you will get absorbed into the animation industry even while you’re studying for your animation degree.

20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pixar Animation, Walt Disney, and so many more industry giants are based in California. From San Francisco, Los Angeles, Burbank, Oakland, to Long Beach, you’ll find this bustling city swarming with animation schools.

What is more interesting is that the salary of Animators in California is gratifying? According to Glassdoor, here is the average annual salary for animators based on location and animation companies in California:

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  • $84,882 – Los Angeles
  • $84,145 – San Jose
  • $83,741 – San Francisco
  • $130,611 – Dreamworks
  • $111,185 – Pixar

So, what are you waiting for? Join us in the next section to see the schools and colleges where you can get the best animation programs and degrees in California.

List of the Best Animation Schools in California

We will list the top 13 animation schools in California. But you may wonder, “what makes these schools and colleges better than other animation schools in California?”

What we used to judge the best animation schools in California are:

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  • The comprehensiveness and diversity of the animation programs: Schools offering more comprehensive animation programs and diverse specialization rank higher.
  • The kinds of degree program the animation schools offer: We rank those offering Bachelor’s degree higher than those offering Associate’s degree programs
  • The graduation rate, and
  • The sophistication of the faculty: Schools with faculty members who are working professionals rank higher.

Following this, here are the best animation schools in California in no particular order

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  • Academy of Art University
  • University of Southern California
  • Cogswell Polytechnical College
  • California College of the Arts
  • LA Film School
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • California State University-Long Beach
  • SAE Expression College
  • Art Center College of Design
  • San Jose State University
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Otis College of Art and Design
  • Gnomon School of Visual Effects

1. Academy of Art University

Graduation Rate: 33%

Tuition: $26,147

Degree Offering: Associates (AA), Bachelor’s (BA), Master’s (MA), Master’s in Fine Art (MFA), and Certificate

Just like the name goes, the Academy of Art University is a place you want to go to when you think of studying Art in college. This school, which began in 1929 is a top animation school in California. It is located in San Francisco, California, and has over 11,000 students who are enrolled as either undergraduates or postgraduates.

While the Academy offers degrees in a variety of Art disciplines, it has a faculty dedicated to animation. This is the School of Animation & Visual Effects. You can take the Animation & Visual Effect program towards any kind of degree and certificate except Ph.D. In this program, they will groom you to become the best storyboard artist, visual effect artist, or 2D/3D animator.

More enticing is that the Academy of Art University’s faculty comprises award-winning professionals. It involved some of them in the making of animations like The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Shriek. Also, the Academy of Art University is the only Animation & VFX school that teaches in a studio production environment – StudioX.

Thus, it is no surprise that this animation school in California takes a spot in The Rookies 2018 Top 5 3D Motion Graphics School worldwide.

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2. University of Southern California

Tuition: $57,256

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Graduation Rate: 91%

Degree Offering: Bachelor’s (BA), Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA)

The University of Southern California or USC is another top university in California to grab a degree in animation. USC began in 1880 and has offered a variety of degree programs in several disciplines to over 45,000 students. However, its John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts offers its animation programs.

USC animation programs are in undergraduate and graduate divisions. You can major in and gain a Bachelor of Arts in Animation & Digit Arts or Masters in Fine Art in Animation & Digit Arts. Be rest assured of becoming an expert if you learn animation and digital arts at USC.

This is because this California animation school’s degrees help you to explore every aspect of art in motion including classic character animation, 2-D and 3-D storytelling, performance capture, and experimental filmmaking.

Furthermore, with training from qualified facility members at USC John C. Hench Division, you can join graduates like Mahyar Abousaeedi to work at Pixar Animations.

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3. Art Center College of Design

Tuition: $21,408 per term

Graduation Rate: 67%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA)

ArtCenter College of Design started in 1930 in Los Angeles as the Art Center School. Now, ArtCenter College is in Pasadena, California, and has two campuses – Hillside Campus and South Campus. ArtCenter offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in art specializations and Interdisciplinary programs. From inception till the present, ArtCentre has ranked fairly well both globally and nationally. U.S. News and World Report ranked this California school’s Industrial Design and Media Design Practices Program among the top 20 graduate schools in the US.

Meanwhile, ArtCenter’s animation program is in its Entertainment Design. This program offers tracks in concept, animation, and game design. The animation program will help you master character animation, storyboarding, modeling, art direction, and lighting for 3D and 2D animation.

This is a comprehensive program that prepares you for a blissful career in the entertainment industry.

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You’ll definitely need these Top 21 Scholarships for College Students in California to study Animation in California.

4. California Institute of the Arts

Tuition: $50,850

Graduation Rate: 63%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) and Masters of Fine Art (MFA)

California Institute of the Arts or CalArts is a private university in Los Angeles, California. The school began its operation in 1961 and offers Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. degree programs in art-specific disciplines. Through its six schools – Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater – CalArts provides the education needs of over 1,500 students. At its early stage, CalArts’s board of directors included Walt Disney, Lulu Von Hagen, and several other notable professionals in the industry. This sentiment has kept CalArts at the top spot of animation schools in California.

Meanwhile, CalArts School of Film/Video offers some animation programs. You can either acquire a BFA in Character Animation, BFA in Experimental Animation or MFA in Experimental Animation at CalArts. The BFA in Character animation solidifies your understanding and upgrades your skills in the art of character performance and storytelling in animation.

Experimental animation is for students who wish to develop intellectually demanding, aesthetically progressive concepts and professional practices in their personal cinematic art-making.

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5. Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Tuition: $27,840

Graduation Rate: 100%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA), and Certificate.

Gnomon School of Visual Effects is one of the best animation schools in California to acquire a bachelor’s degree. The school began in 1997 in Hollywood, California, and has been expanding in scope and innovation ever since.

Initially, the school began to provide the training needs of industry artists but this California private school has expanded to begin offering two and four-year training options in Entertainment Design and Digital Productions. Ranking as one of the top 10 VFX schools worldwide in the 2019 Hollywood Reporter award, and top spot in several other industry-specific rankings, Gnomon College is now the MIT of VFX.

So, Gnomon’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Productions is not just about special effects. It is a full-time program that aims to produce artists who possess general academic knowledge, foundational arts, and production skills. You will learn all aspects of the 3D production pipeline in film, games, and visual effects.

To accomplish this, you will use industry software like Maya and ZBrush as well as learn from qualified faculty members. Also, while progressing in this BFA degree in this California animation school, you can take electives to enhance a particular skill.

Gnomon also offers a two-year, full-time program in Digital Program which awards you a certificate on completion. The beauty of studying at Gnomon is that their programs are available both On-Campus and Online.

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6. Cogswell Polytechnical College

Tuition: $37,125

Graduation Rate: 81%

Degree Offering: Bachelors of Art (BA)

Cogswell Polytechnic College is an old private college in San Jose, California. It began its operation in 1887 and offers Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Master of Art to over 700 students. Even though Cogswell is a small university, it offers one of the best animation degree programs in California. Of course, with its student population, you can only expect to get the best attention to help you succeed in your academics.

So, Cogswell’s Department of Art & Animation offers the private animation college’s only animation degree – BA Digital Art and Animation. However, this degree allows you to concentrate on 3D Modeling, 3D Animation, Entertainment Design, or Technical Art. Studying animation in Cogswell will benefit you largely as you will get inputs from industry connections and learn all the skills which studios are looking for.

Also, Cogswell’s alumni get employed in animation companies like Activision Blizzard, Pixar, Cartoon Network, Disney, and Dream Works after graduation.

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7. California College of the Arts

Tuition: $50,592

Graduation Rate: 62%

Degree Offering: Bachelor in Fine Art (BFA)

California College of the Arts or CCA is another amazing school for Arts concentration in California. This animation college began operating as a private educational institution in 1901, and it has two campuses – San Francisco and Oakland. Through these campuses, California College of the Arts offers 22 undergraduate and 13 graduate majors to over 1,900 students. However, these degrees are only in Arts, Fine Arts, and Architecture.

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Specifically, CCA offers just one animation degree program – BFA Animation. However, this California animation school’s curriculum approaches animation from a fine art perspective. In addition to studio work, you’ll learn drawing, sculpture, acting, and storytelling to develop your unique film grammar, the way you build your frames, shots, scenes, and sequences.

Furthermore, CCA’s faculty is made of professionals in the industry. Still visiting artists who work on a wide range of projects and are part of animation teams for companies like Dreamwork, Pixar, and Tippett train animation students.

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If you’re an international student seeking to study any course at all in California, then see this 21 Cheapest University in California for International Students

8. San Jose State University

Tuition: $7,852

Graduation Rate: 60%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA)

San Jose State University is a large public university in San Jose, California. The university began in 1857 as the founding campus of the California State University System. This public university in Californa has over 32,000 students, and the school produces the bulk of alumni at Silicon Valley technology.

Meanwhile, San Jose State University has nine colleges and seven focused schools through which it offers accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees to its students.

Its College of Humanities and Department of Design supplies San Jose State University’s animation degree program. The program is a BFA in Animation/Illustration that prepares students for a promising career in the entertainment industry. In this program, you’ll learn color theory, design, perspective, and conventional and digital painting.

To further qualify you for the industry, you will study the principles of both traditional and 3D animation, physics of motion, modeling, storyboarding, character design, and visual development.

Furthermore, what makes this animation degree program one of the best in California is that it provides you with a professional internship opportunity. Here, you can begin to familiarise yourself with the working environment of the industry before you finally graduate to take up exciting job roles.

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9. LA Film School

Tuition: Domestic – $75,000
International – $82,500

Graduation Rate: 82%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Science (BS)

The Los Angeles Film School or LA Film School for short is a top animation college in California that offers accredited Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs specifically relating to the entertainment industry. This Film School in Los Angeles has over 2,000 students and offers a Bachelor degree program in animation.

However, LA Film School’s Bachelor’s degree in animation is a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Effects. This animation program teaches you the dynamism of visual effects in movies and how to create them. Thus, if you’ve ever marveled at how animation companies create effects like explosions, spaceships, etc, LA Film School is where to satisfy your curiosity and become a master in VFX.

Also, what makes the LA school a name on the lips of art students in California is its connections to the movie industry. Studying animation at the LA school will give you unparalleled access to Hollywood and set you on the right track to a fulfilling career.

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10. Loyola Marymount University

Tuition: $49,550

Graduation Rate: 77%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Art (BA)

Loyola Marymount University or LMU is an old college in California that has undergone several name transformation from the year it began, 1865, till present. It is a private Nonprofit college in Los Angeles that has affiliation with the Jesuit Roman Catholic sect.

As is the culture of many Roman Catholic schools, LMU is bent on excellence and its rankings show for it. U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the 64th best College in 2020.

While LMU offers comprehensive undergraduate and graduate degrees, it also offers an animation program which is one of the best in California. LMU’s small student population will benefit you if you study Animation in this college.

The small class sizes will encourage high student-faculty interaction in coursework including visual effects, stop-motion, experimental animation, 2D and 3D, and game design. Also, this program will groom you to take leadership roles in the entertainment industry.

What is more is that at Loyola Marymount University, you own whatever you produce during your time at the animation school. Johnny Bravo was an LMU alumni’s thesis film before he sold it to Cartoon network. You too can make such classic animation studying at LMU.

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11. California State University-Long Beach

Tuition: $3,417.00 per semester

Graduation Rate: 86%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA), Masters of Fine Art/Art (MFA/MA)

California State University Long Beach (CSULB) is one of the 23 California State University System. This public university in Long Beach, California has a large student population of over 63,000 students.

The college has eight (8) academic colleges including the College of Arts and admits the largest number of graduate students across the CSU system and the state of California. Also, CSULB is the home to the largest publicly funded art school west of the Mississippi. Therefore, its Art programs are one of the best in the state.

Meanwhile, CSULB’s School of Art offers a BFA and MFA/MA degree program in Illustration/Animation. The Bachelor’s program focuses on drawing from observation, whereby you will graduate to take suitable roles in the entertainment industry.

Alumni from CSULB have made a name for themselves in Visual Journalism, storyboarding for film and television, and in all aspects of editorial art and gallery exhibition. The Master’s program centers on heightening your independent creative vision.

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Here are the 20 Best Community Colleges in California if you’re interested in attending a community college in California.

12. SAE Expression College

Tuition: $85,000

Graduation Rate: 47%

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Degree Offering: Bachelor of Applied Science (BS)

SAE Expression College was formerly the Ex’pression College for Digital Arts. This is a private, for-profit college with campuses in Emeryville and San Jose, California. While the school started in 1988 as the Ex’pression Centre for New Media, it is one of the top schools in California to grab an animation degree. SAE Expression College is a pure arts college that offers programs in Animation, audio, film, games, and creative media.

Its animation school offers a Bachelor of Applied Science degree program in Animation & Visual Effects. This program concentrates on the foundations of visual effects such as 3D modeling, motion studies, character rigging, and animation body mechanics.

The interesting feature of this California animation school’s program is that it takes only 32 months to complete. After this period, you can qualify for job positions as a 3D Modeler, CG Artist, Technical Director, Character Artist, 3D Artist, etc.

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13. Otis College of Art and Design

Tuition: $45,200

Graduation Rate: 63%

Degree Offering: Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA), and Certificate

Otis College of Art and Design is a private art school in Los Angeles, California. The school began in 1918 and offers undergraduate, graduate programs, extension, k-12 and Pre-College, Summer Residency, and Travel study programs.

Through the undergraduate programs, students can major in Architecture/Landscape/Interiors, Communication Arts, Digital Media, Fashion Design, Fine Arts, Product Design, and Toy Design. While the options of major are wide, there are more minors for Otis undergraduates to dip deeper into art specializations.

Meanwhile, OTIS offers its animation program through its Digital Media major which confers a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) on graduates. In this program, you’ll grow to tell interesting stories through digital media while concentrating on Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, or Motion Design.

On graduation from this degree program, you will be as qualified as other OTIS alumni who work in companies like Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, ILM, and Nickelodeon.

Also, if you have an idea for a cartoon, you can take Otis’ Character Design for Animation and Cartooning. Through this program, you’ll learn how to create believable, interesting characters with human traits for cartoons and animation while acquiring a certificate.

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How competitive is animation?

Getting into an animation school may not be very competitive, especially if you plan on attending one in California where there are scores of Animation schools.

The acceptance rates are better than programs like medicine and even engineering. However, the animation career is a very competitive one as the industry giants select just a few animators out of the thousands of animators colleges roll out every year. Nonetheless, you will thrive if you’re very skilled and talented.

What classes should I take in high school to become an animator?

To prepare you for an animation career, you should take drawing and painting classes, computer science classes, and maths. You should also take social studies, literature in English, and creative writing classes. Most importantly, partake in extracurricular activities – like graphics design groups – where you can grow your skills.

How do I become an animator at pixar?

Big animation firms like Pixar go for the best. So, to become an animator at Pixar, your works must prove that you’re the best. Build a great portfolio and demo reel. Also, since Pixar is located in California, you will do yourself some good to position in California. Attend one of the best animation schools in California and ensure to be exceptional.

How do I go into animation from programming?

Programming is a supplementary skill for animators, especially if you’ll be delving into game development. However, because you need some art background that programming may not have availed you, you can take an Associate degree in animation where you’ll learn all the fundamentals of animation. From there, you can proceed to acquire a BFA, BA, or BS degree in animation.

Does USC have a good animation program?

Yes, USC has one of the best animation programs in California and the USA generally. Its BA in Animation & Visual Effect is a solid animation program taught by faculty members who are established professionals in the field.

What is the Cheapest Animation School in California?

San Jose State University offers the cheapest animation degree program in California. The tuition fee for its BFA in Animation/Illustration is around $7,852 annually.

The £18,000 British Chevening Scholarships are still ongoing, apply now and study in a UK university.


It is an exceptional experience studying animation in California. Not only does the state have some of the finest animation schools but also the largest concentration of animation firms.

Many of the top animation schools in California (which we’ve discussed above) provide you with the quality of degree which animation companies are looking for.

So, studying your preferred animation degree program in any of these California schools may just be the right push you need to the direction of a fantastic and rewarding career. We hope that this post will guide you in your program decision.

Share your opinion with us in the comment section.


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