Animation Degree Needed?

Hello, all! I’ve been out of work for quite some time and am looking to jump back in. I’ve always been interested in VFX and am in the middle of an Udemy course involving Visual Effects for Unity. I’m having a grand time so far, but I did have a question that hopefully someone can answer.

I can be a bit dense with things, so I’m looking more into starting college courses as opposed to self-learning 100% of the art. I am interested in video game effects in particular; spell effects and the like. This seems rather niche from what I am seeing. I have researched courses and degrees, but they are all for overall 3D animation. My question is, will I have to go through every single aspect of animation in order to learn particle systems and video game effects? What degree would I need for this niche group that I’m looking to join? Hopefully this makes sense. :slight_smile: Thanks in advance.


No need for a degree at all! You can learn everything on your own nowadays. Obviously, it will depend on what works better for you.

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Pretty similar response as @Lush. You don’t need college for real time/game vfx, but it may be handy. My rule of thumb when people ask about college is this: Will you end up going more than a few thousand dollars in debt from going to college and completing a 4 year degree? (Either personal debt or US student loans?) If the answer to that is “Yes” don’t do it, it’s not worth it. You will be much better off from a financial and skill development finding online courses and tutorials and creating your own plan.

Now to answer your question about kinds of degrees. For VFX, if you haven’t found a program that actually specializes in it, and just offers general 3D/Game Design program, then these are some things to consider. Things that will be useful in your journey learning vfx are digital art classes, intermediate 3d modeling courses, 2d and 3d animation courses (but you don’t need anything advanced that starts getting into 3d character animation), any kind of game design classes where you build a game or work in an engine, and a program with some kind of capstone or final class where you work on a project with a group of other people. Unless you really find something you enjoy and want to do more of it, you wouldn’t need any class in these areas beyond a second level/intermediate, and you shouldn’t choose a program that has you focusing on one of these areas for the entire degree.

No, but understanding the principles of animation will help push your effects skills and eye from good to great, especially if you are focusing on things like magic spells and combat effects.


Oh wow, thanks for such a detailed reply! When you say look for game design classes that focus on building a game and working in an engine, is this advanced programming studies (with coding?)? Forgive me if that’s a silly question, I am very much just starting out on learning the details.

I’m also a bit confused about what is created from scratch or not. If I were given a job to create an AOE fire spell, is it an industry norm to use assets already available online (and modify of course)?

Lastly, I see you mentioned 2D animation courses. I am not the best pen and paper drawer. Is this something that is required in the industry?

No, no programming needed. The class may teach something like light scripting or use node-based scripting like Unreal Engine, but you don’t need any classes where you’re hard coding everything. I mentioned creating a game or working in an engine, because some classes just teach game design theory, or you just make paper prototypes. It’s not a necessary type of course, but it’s helpful.

You will either be making everything from scratch on your own, or you may have access to a library of assets internally at the studio you can work with. The expectation is that you could make everything you needed from scratch if necessary though.

Again, no, not required. There has been a trend forming where artists and games focusing on more stylized fx have been getting into and using more hand drawn 2d fx in their pipelines. The more important aspect of taking a class like that is learning and being able to apply the foundational principles of animation to your work. If you don’t have a 3d animation course available, take a 2d one, or take it in addition to a 3d animation course.

To piggyback off Lush & Travis —a degree does not get you a job; what will need to be demonstrated in a portfolio are these variables

  1. Experience
  2. Aptitude
  3. Attitude
  4. Creative problem-solving

i also am very critical of tuition inflation in the US balanced against the resources of the school and how well they actually prepare students


  • Understanding 3D/animation pipeline helps you interface with char, environment, and anim team.

  • self-sufficient skillset requires foundation 3D modeling, 3D animation and material/shader concepts

  • Intermediate modeling and unwrapping in something like Blender is perfect; you can self learn these tools online and practice

  • overview of basic rigging and skinning

  • animation principles and abstraction need to be incorporated --you can study this online/books and a ton of training your eye studying reference to develop instincts for motion

  • foundation art is needed --nomenclature and theory / background : as simple additive (RGB) color system vs subtractive (RYB), color theory, composition, focus, balance, timing, rhythm… etc

  • agile thinking and initiative are what keep you relevant; You will be learning new tools, method, technique and pipeline constantly

all of the above is important as you begin to learn Unity: Shuriken, Mechanim|Animation Controller, basic UI toolset and methods(very company specific) Shader graph and VFX-Graph --all of these you want to learn as much as possible

  • traditional art skills like rendering, illustration, and drawing help but you won’t need this for a job. It improves your skillset for a more particular role where needed.

  • texture authoring can depend on your painting skills and this goes back to self-sufficiency. But many forms of VFX textures can be crafted without 2D painting skills

niche skills start with 3D games from year >2000 depending on the platforms you need to target in terms of ‘tricks’, shaders, hardware, and optimization methods, this stuff is tech-art savy. Likely this is never learned in an Art school unless it’s a trade-specific institute offering real-time 3D game art as a major

Advanced stuff is dynamics, simulation and Houdini incorporation with the above needs for the future on PC/Console (and eventually mobile)

design classes that focus on building a game and working in an engine,

What you will want to learn (on the job or in classes) is asset ingestion for deployment. Parameters with importing and aggregating pieces assembled into a game-ready RTVFX object. Each team and company can have drastically different setup and standards so you need to be familiar with learning them.

it is also important you can communicate between tech-art and understand the division of labor about what is your responsibility and where are your limits

This is a lot of great information, thank you guys. While I’m not yet savvy with the lingo you’ve mentioned, Torbach, I’ve jotted it all down for when I can digest it easier. :grin:

I referenced an excellent article on these forums about getting started and have a lot of homework now. From what you’ve all mentioned, I’m thinking maybe a full on degree might not be the way to go necessarily. I’m going to give self-learning a shot first and see how it goes.

Is there a specific engine/platform/program (like unreal/unity/maya) that you’d suggest to start with? I see a lot of useful looking courses, but most of them are program based like “Animating with Unity” or “Maya”, so not sure if there is one in particular I should start with.

I can’t state it enough, I really really appreciate you guys responding. I’m sure you get a ton of newbies chirping at you on here about the same thing. :grin:

Blender is an open-source free 3D application. online lessons and tutorials are plentiful
Krita & Gimp free open-source painting applications

Unity you also can use for free as an individual for learning

Start with the Unity Particle system (Shuriken) it is high level, easy to understand simple adjustments for fast results and get familiar with how you assemble complex results. Supplement in textures. RTVFX has a thread for a library of images and you put these on materials with a shader Plenty of textures found in google to play with as well as shaders. Those direct links are the manual but you can dive through other keywords I mentioned such as Animation Timeline, Controller and Mechanim

There’s a Unity project tutorial +ZIP file so you get objects to utilize

RTVFX forum search can show you many tutorials for Unity for other ideas/concepts
Particles by Sirhaian
VFXgraph 1 & VFXGraph 2 by GabrielAguiar

For a degree in Art, I only recommend a 2-year Associates in foundational classes so you can get some instruction when diving into concepts/software for the first time —but I never recommend at 18 American students dive into $20,000 per year of debt.

never underestimate youtube content creators; you can follow many and see what they share


I barely broke 20 for my entire 4 year degree :dizzy_face:

@Angelawl I’m not sure where you’re located, but definitely check out community college (or whatever outside the US equivalent is) to see if they have any courses that relate to this kind of thing that you could take too. Way cheaper than a 4 year college/university semester of tuition, and you can get a feel for what college is like if you haven’t gone through that process yet.

Like Torbach mentioned, you can basically get most tutorials and learning resources you need for free from YouTube and the internet. If you want something more structured though, even a Pluralsight subscription to access their intro courses is money better spent.

To get started, you’ll just need familiarity with 3d modeling, texture creation, and a game engine of your choice. That’s seriously it to get started with particle effects.

I barely broke 20 for my entire 4 year degree :dizzy_face:

yeah, I know. Many of us probably got ‘lucky’ to get 4yr before America’s inflation period… but now it is sad (Google “Art school tuition” per year is 25k average)
or here

Academy in SF is ‘only’ ~25k (now imagine rent) while the more expensive hit 35k+ and don’t consider a students material costs

Oh yeah, don’t mess with any of those game dev trade-school types, unless you just have that disposable income. I’m sure they have good courses, and instructors with some industry experience, but you just won’t make enough as an artist to justify the cost, and certainly not the debt. Unless you miraculously end up an Art Director at some big studio in less than 5 years, student loans for those kinds of places could potentially follow you for a lifetime.

I have been looking into community college classes, and hopefully can start one soon. In the meantime, I’m definitely going to be looking at all the tutorials I can find. Do you guys have a suggestion for which engine to start with? I know any/all of them are helpful and I’ll learn them eventually, but I wanted to start on a specific one so as not to get overwhelmed.

Thanks for the links and info, Torbach. I’m actually taking Mr. Aguair’s udemy course at the moment, too!

My personal pref is Unreal. It feels more artist friendly to me, and the main reason I recommend it over Unity is Epic has mountains of documentation on everything in the engine. It’s really easy to look up what a node does or where to find something, and Epic has tons of videos and recorded live streams of educational content, on top of all the third party tutorials and user-made videos.

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Unity is largely utilized at recent mobile game studios that popped up since 2014. The product began wide adoption after 2012 when mobile proved its revenue potential. Teams at these studios often have trouble recruiting highly experienced users due to the recent adoption and incredible growth… which can make it easier to get an entry-level job

Unreal is far older. Its organic adoption makes it the market leader for console and PC; Its Epic game service deployment platform imo solidified its dominance and has a wider experienced userbase due to longevity and its head start.

I only know Unity so I can’t compare toolset, but I suggest new students prioritize learning Unreal due to its dominance. Picking up Unity afterward will become relatively easy from there

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