Advice on specialized graduate study after general BFA?


Let me preface this by saying that I’ve gone through all the threads in this part of the forum that were relevant, and found few enough questions regarding a situation similar enough to mine that I’d like to ask directly:

I’ll be completing a B.F.A. in Digital Arts and Experimental Media this coming school year. I’ve taken a series that has introduced me to 3D/animation, including experience with Maya Zbrush, and Photoshop, and I already have a solid background in traditional drawing and paining. I want to pursue a career in games on the end of character artist/concept artist/3D modeler, and while I got some great fundamental experience in the requisite skills in my major, I’m definitely thinking I need some more focused education specifically in 3D to produce a portfolio that will get me a job, which leads me to my next question - where to go?

I’ve done a lot of research and come up with a general list of pros and cons of each type of school - I’ve read both that I should go somewhere that offers a Master’s if I’m paying the money to go anyway, and that the Master’s won’t matter esp. with a B.F.A. already under my belt; I’ve heard both good and bad things about the 1 - year intensive programs, that they’re either not enough time to really develop a folio or that they force you to be really hardcore productive. Ultimately, I’m looking for a program that will get me specialized training in 3D art, offer good networking opportunities, and will more generally allow me to create an impressive portfolio.

Based on my research, the following schools are currently on my list:

University of Southern California (Interactive Media M.F.A.)
Savannah College of Art and Design (Animation or Game Design M.F.A.)
Academy of Art University (Animation or Game Design M.F.A.'s)
Vancouver Film School (3D Modeling and VFX - certificate)
Think Tank Training Centre (Modeling)
Gnomon School (3 year program in Modeling and Texturing)
Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy

Would love to hear any opinions on where might be the best choice to go in my situation, and why? Also if there are schools included here that shouldn’t be, or if I’m missing any that I should consider? Any more general impressions are welcome as well.


Do not spend more money (or take out loans) to go to grad school unless you want to teach at the university level.

Take some relevant CG Society workshops and look into other online workshops with industry-experienced instructors that critique your work. Get some Gnomon, eat3D, 3dMotive, etc. DVDs that are relevant to what you want to do. Follow tutorials that are posted on game sites. Ask questions on the game tech forums (and provide answers to others’ questions if you are able) Render your scenes in a game engine (UDK, Unity, CryEngine, or Marmoset Toolbag).

Begin building your reel (based on the area that will be your focus) and submit works to some of the key game related forums for critiques by people working in the field. Polish that work and resubmit. Rinse and repeat. You can network with people online (if they see that you are serious, take critques well, and keep improving). You can attend the GDC in SF in March also.

More schooling will only cost you more money and will not guarantee you a position. You do not need graduate school to learn the game character or art pipeline. Start making as much 3D art as you can now and learn from it. Most game related grad schools (for-profit and traditional) are charging way too much for game-related art degrees. I just visited with a younger gentleman today that spent $50,000 on a game-related art school and is returning to a community college to pick up some basic art courses (neglected at his school). His reel is not good enough to land a job yet.


I was in the same position a few months ago. Long story short, after a LOT of research and weighing out the practicalities of different options…I chose a certificate program over grad school. The portfolio is what is going to get you the job, and if you’re going to be spending the money and putting in 100% of your effort, you want the most relevant and condensed training to help you get there. From what I saw, MFA programs were far more expensive for the amount of courses I would be getting out of them, and a lot of them were more towards the intermediate-advanced skill level for modeling/3d. And they appeared to focus less on the actual technical training of the software and more on the massive projects you were creating, because they assumed you had a background in it already. I was looking more for solid coverage of both. And also, that’s just from what I saw looking around - I certainly couldn’t have looked at every grad program and I don’t mean to generalize them all. You might find one that works more for you and is more affordable.

As far as self training vs college goes, I feel that depends more on the individual. If you don’t have a ton of debt and you budget your education out, and you’re confident in your abilities and the effort that you’re going to be putting into studying, then go for it. College is a resource to use if you can and are realistically able - and there are a lot of cheaper programs to consider as well if you can’t do a full MFA program. Also I think you should be doing self training anyways while in college, it will help twice as much. But that’s something you have to decide on your own, some people leave undergrad with no debt, some with 100k.


Thanks much for the helpful replies, really useful to have your perspectives on this. I will add that as I’m fortunate enough to be graduating from my undergrad with no loans, I do have financial wiggle room for a post-graduate program of some kind - I guess I’m particularly interested in the relative value of the Master’s vs. a certificate type program especially in the long term (might the degree be at all advantageous if somewhere down the line I aspire to climb the ladder to a higher position like art director, for example?)

Thanks again for the info!


An MFA will only help you land teaching/research positions. You may want it later down the road if you want to do something like find a job that doesn’t require potentially insane hours (basically teaching), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a posting for a job at a studio that required a masters (and I’ve seen a LOT of postings.)

If it was me and my money I would go to Gnomon and take only classes about what I actually wanted to learn about (the 2-3 year programs are a little pricey for not netting you a degree.) The location and the school are great for networking. I’d also apply to any MFA programs that offer scholarships (like SCAD) and see what I get, since if it ends up being relatively cheap to go, then why not, especially since you have no undergrad debt. I would definitely NOT go to any schools that don’t offer anything in the way of assistantships or scholarships, as an MA or MFA will not help you out enough to justify being massively in debt for it.

Not sure if you know about it and decided not to put it on your list for some reason, but University of Utah also has some masters program involving game design. I don’t really know anything about it, but the undergrad program has been getting some attention.

EDIT: I just wanted to add that if I did have 80k that I didn’t mind parting with, I would definitely do a whole program at Gnomon.


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