Is a degree in computer engineering necessary for a career in 3D animation?


I am 17 years old and have decided to invest everything into 3D animation, in hopes of being able to get into Ringling College during my senior year. However, my parents are very doubtful of my success in this field if I only received education in art and believe that I should learn something else before I go there.
I was hoping if someone would be able to tell me if technical skills such as coding and scripting would be necessary for a career path in 3D animation and whether I should divert and take a course in computer engineering before taking a shot at Ringling. My main concern is whether I’d be wasting my time by diverting from my passion in order to master a skill that I feel may not be necessary.
If someone who’s working at a company or industry tell me where they work and what career path they took on their way to get there, that’d be great.


Yes the animation/games/vfx industry has many positions that are very technical and require programming and scripting. While there is a glut of artists competing to work in animation, technical positions are less competitive and better paying. You could look into:

Character Setup/Rigging
FX Artist
Pipeline Engineer

Perhaps you could compromise with your parents and study for a technical position AT an animation school. Savannah College of Art and Design seems like a good choice for you. I’ve always felt that they were a more technically-minded version of Ringling (which is very artsy). Both have good relationships with major animation studios.
If you wanted a purely artistic job in animation, Calarts and Ringling are probably your top choices.

I went to an art school that didn’t specialize in animation. It was tough to learn the software on my own and even tougher that i had no connections in the animation industry. I eventually got an internship working on commercial VFX/animation. After a few years, I got an opportunity to work at Imageworks because they moved to Vancouver and had to restaff.


Hey, I went to Ringling for CA and recently left (financial reasons being the big factor). Nevertheless, I know a lot about the program because I was a third year, and I’d be happy to answer any questions honestly either here or in PM.

Anyway, like the above poster, it really depends what you have more interest doing. Ringling is really only strong in the artistic sense. There is not a lot of technical focus. Most graduates are character animators or do stylized generalist work. The professors were mostly character animators in film/vfx as well.

If you want to do a more technical role, degrees have more weight, and I would also recommend you look into an art school with technical classes, SCAD being one example. Or perhaps go to school for computer science. The latter path is arguably better, since it would allow you to go into other industries. You can teach yourself how to apply your CS skills in the context of CG.

The thing is that there are many different paths in CG so it is hard to give a clear answer. You need to figure some stuff out until professionals can give you more focused guidance. Perhaps you can take a gap year or take some workshops/cheap classes, play around with software, to get a feel for it. It sounds like in your post that you don’t really care about the technical aspects. So if you wanted to be a character animator for instance, coding is irrelevant.

The one thing I can tell you for sure is that you shouldn’t attend an art school as expensive as Ringling if you can’t afford it or don’t get enough aid/scholarships. The debt is not worth it.


Would it be better for me to get the bachelor while studying animation in the side or to specialize in animation in an attempt to be better than the rest?

What advantages did you get from Ringling that you believe you wouldn’t have gotten from other schools?

If I were to try and squeeze the most out of Ringling, would I be leagues better than if I were to attempt to learn 3D Animation by myself on the side?

Did going to Ringling/If you completed you education at Ringling would that give you a financial boost when it comes to salaries? Do you think a bachelors would have changed the amount you get paid?

I have taken a side course in my school which consists of a Guthrie class under 3D animation, so I at least have a basic understanding of 3Ds Max and will start using Unity a bit during the next year. Knowing this, would you recommend I continue to home my craft or should I generalize? To be perfectly honest, the only reason I’m considering the bachelors is that I would be receiving full financial support from my parents, but I really don’t feel very interested in coding/scripting/etc. Maybe I’m being ignorant, but it all seems so dull and tedious. Thank you guys for taking the time to answer these questions, it really means a lot to me.


If your first question is in regards to becoming a technical artist, then personally I would recommend studying animation on the side, because you can definitely learn to apply your coding skills to CG, especially nowadays with all these online workshops. Plus, it would be easier in the future to be flexible and change industries if you end up changing your mind. However, I do have one friend who works in the commercial industry as a TD that believes the artistic foundation from Ringling gave him a boost. So it depends on who you ask.

The advantages I got from Ringling… mainly it’s not the curriculum itself, actually. The school being really reputable is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What I mean is that because it has a high reputation, some very skilled/motivated people will attend. So as a result, you end up working in an environment where people are really good. This motivates you to improve faster, and can also give you future connections, since many of your classmates will actually be successful. Furthermore, the majority of the animation faculty are well-qualified and worked in the film industry for a decent amount of time, at some of the bigger-name studios as well. Lastly, you get a decent amount of recruiters coming as well, which gives students more of a direct line to internships (although very few students still get them). These are advantages you would also get at other reputable schools like Calarts or Gnomon. But these are also not essential advantages to breaking into the entertainment industry. Many working artists went to “no-name” schools, or didn’t go to art school, and a few didn’t go to school at all. But yes, you would likely improve far more in the same amount of time by going to a school like Ringling. Go to Gnomon instead if you want to do modeling or texturing. Calarts for storyboarding.

Of course there are downsides to Ringling, mainly the department politics and the stratified curriculum. I can elaborate more if you wish.

As far as the artistic jobs go, your portfolio itself is usually the deciding factor in getting a job (save visa issues). Of course networking and who you know gives you a huge boost, but there are ways of networking besides going to an extremely expensive school, and if your skill level is high enough you will eventually get a job regardless.

When you say your parents will support you only for a bachelors (I assume in computer engineering) does this mean you’d have to go into huge debt otherwise?
Then I suggest a few possibilities.

  1. Tough it out and go through computer engineering, teach yourself CG on the side. I know it sounds like a horrendous path from your point of view, especially as a high schooler - but you have the opportunity to get a CE degree with full financial support, something that would give you more job flexibility down the line say if you wanted to exit CG altogether. However, this may not be the best path if you truly hate coding…
  2. Compromise with your parents - is their problem with going to a program like Ringling the fact that its such an expensive, specialized art program? Propose to them that you go to a cheaper school, more traditional and fine arts. That foundation will help you in CG (even if the benefit is not immediately visible), and all you’d need is a computer plus some tutorials to teach yourself on the side. This way may be less “risk” for them because it requires less financial investment. Tell them that you could always go back to school afterwards.
  3. Convince them to support you instead for a CG school like Ringling.

I was actually in a very, very similar position as you - just swap out CE with CS. I opted for option #3 but didn’t properly consider the other routes. I was a selfish teenager, but also scared… convinced that the only way I would ever break in would be by going to a top CG school. Turns out that even though I said I’d never do coding, I’ve been learning VEX code for doing fx in houdini. You never know how you will change down the line so be flexibile, do more research, consider everything.


There are many types of positions available in the animation pipeline. What has been said above is true that there is a glut for character animators. If you want this, you better be spectacular because you will find it hard to get a job in pure CA.

HOWEVER, there are more positions available for “technical directors” and they generally pay better than that of character animators or even concept artists. Technical people do VFX, lighting, Rigging, skinning and texturing, materials, not to mention developing tools using coding. Even these fields that I mentioned usually have subspecialties. For example, VFX includes crowd design, special effects for water, fire, air, explosions, hair and fur etc.

Now there are many places that you can achieve strong training in these areas. Some examples in the U.S. would be: RIT, SVA,Pratt, Art Center, and SCAD. I don’t know enough about Ringling’s program to discuss them. Check all these out.

One final point: schools tend to be either very academic and conceptional (art) oriented or very commercial ( i.e. focuses on practical stuff you need for the job) You really need to review student work and inquire about their focus. USC for example is very highly rated but, in my opinion, isn’t very practical , real life oriented, while SVA and RIT is and probably SCAD is too.


I guess this will be the last question before I decide my path in life. What degree path in computer engineering would consist of this coding and scripting stuff, or at least be part of something that could benefit me either in 3D animation, or helping me make it on my own.


A CS degree would actually benefit you more, as a lot of TD stuff is related to scripting. Python and C++ are used as well as some languages specific to different software packages.

Also, I know it feels like right now is the turning point in your life, but you’re still very young and don’t know a lot yet. So try not to feel too stressed about it, and if you’re very uncertain, I would suggest doing like a gap year or community college first to avoid a big financial investment. Good luck!


Here is a starter list of world renowned schools in computer science-you want a program that specializes in graphics.

No matter what direction you go finding a good school is tough today. Definitely research by alumni reviews
because you really cannot trust the schools themselves. The ‘for profit’ schools are everywhere and you need to be careful of them. They pray on the naive.


Not all computer science programs are equal. Some have some strong concentrations in computer graphics such as Columbia, University of Penn etc. Make sure that the program that you pick has a concentration in this area.


Does it have to be one within that realm of focus in order for me to benefit off of the class? The main problem that I have is that it has to be in city/state in order for my parents to support me. University of Houston has a CS degree plan, although I’ll have to take a closer look at the curriculum.

On another note. DO I HAVE TO TAKE MATH?!?! That was the only reason I felt I’d be free from the assetry of high school. I know I’m just being childish but being forced to do something I hate is really indescribably infuriating. ^ Don’t take this too seriously, just venting a bit.

If just any CS degree won’t help me in getting a job (keep in mind I want to be hired as a 3D animator, not a programmer) should I just abandon the idea of going to college/university?


if just any CS degree won’t help me in getting a job (keep in mind I want to be hired as a 3D animator, not a programmer) should I just abandon the idea of going to college/university?

Apologies for entering this discussion late. However let me just say that in my honest opinion really a question deserving of serious deliberation between you and your folks, not a bunch of strangers on a forum after all this is a life changing journey you’re thinking of embarking upon. Plus one other point, as mentioned earlier by someone had you researched an online educational option, say Animation Mentor for example? AFAIK their programs are quite extensive and significantly less expensive.


Take note of what sacboi says. While I tried to give a lot of information/advice it’s still ultimately from somebody you don’t know on the internet. And while a degree isn’t necessary for an artistic role like character animation the question of whether you might want one anyways is more complicated than that. You never know if the flexibility of being able to exit the industry more easily might be something you want.

I would like to stress again that it still sounds like you don’t exactly know what roles are involved in the animation process and aren’t grasping that an ideal path may be different for each. If by 3D animator you mean character animator, then no you don’t need a degree to be hired. But that definitely doesn’t mean the best path for you is to not go to school at all. There are many things you have to consider - like whether you’d like an artistic education anyways, the security of a degree in other industries in the future, or going to school while concurrently doing online programs, etc.


Take a look at a wiki.

There are aspects that are non-CG related-so yes you could deviate off your path if you went to the wrong CS program that specialized in the non-CG aspects. Also note if you study anything at all in school let alone CS chances are you won’t have time to study CGI on your own in any great capacity till after you are finished that degree. So be prepared to take the time for each.

Math. And chances are if you hate math-and more importantly-struggle with it and related complex ideas and problem solving/solution finding than any form of CS may not be for you. Because really thats what it is all about at the core. Remember fundamentally if you hate doing something chances are you won’t ever be very good at it either. As others have said have a pow-wow with your folks. A career based on loathing is doomed to fail.


I guess I might as well clear up some confusion about myself since I was rushing this discussion a bit.

  1. I’ve played with 3ds max a lot, but I guess I might not know everything there is to 3D animation. With that in mind, I do have experience with modeling, lighting, rigging, texturing, and animating. Also storyboarding and concept art and all that, but that’s a bit outside of the 3D.

  2. Yea, I guess I was a bit too excited of the thought of going to Ringling, and I know this isn’t some great adventure, but I guess I have a worry about wasting time. It kind of revolves around the “I only have one shot in this planet” kind of mindset.

  3. For some reason I keep getting this idea that if I get a CS degree, especially one that doesn’t seem like it’s specialized in my career path, people would rather hire me as a programmer, or even worse, not care that I have the degree. Then again, I guess you could say the same about a Bachelor in Art.


Overall, I had a good time there and met a lot of great people. It’s not a bad place to be if you can afford it. Again, it’s mostly animation and story focused, not modeling/texturing/lighting, so keep that in mind. Anyway, it’s easy to feel like you need to rush yourself. While you may only have one life, you still have many years ahead of you. So really take the time to think about your future… and if you’re not sure yet, don’t make an extremely expensive decision. Talk to your parents, more people, etc, maybe take some time off.

  1. For some reason I keep getting this idea that if I get a CS degree, especially one that doesn’t seem like it’s specialized in my career path, people would rather hire me as a programmer, or even worse, not care that I have the degree. Then again, I guess you could say the same about a Bachelor in Art.

No, if you applied as an animator and had a CS degree, it’s not like an employer would turn you down or look down on you for that. Really they will care the most about your actual skills, demonstrated in your demo reel/portfolio. If anything they’ll see it as a plus that you’re tech savvy. Also, plenty of people doing CG professionally have degrees unrelated to that profession, like in graphic design, fine arts, etc. Don’t feel like you have to go to school for computer animation specifically.

If you have zero interest in math or algorithms though, which it sounds like, I wouldn’t suggest doing a CS path. You would probably change majors anyways since it sounds like you despise math so much.


CS and a degree go pretty much hand-in-hand. The degree will be beneficial if you wanted to work abroad for visa purposes. But wouldn’t be a handicap for applying as an animator in the States at all either.

However I think it will be doubtful you’ll end up with a fully-fledged BA in CS and then leave it behind completely as I find it doubtful you’d have what it takes to complete it if you despised it so much too.

However if you embraced the idea having a CS degree it would make you a perfect candidate for more technical aspects of CGI- TD, tool building/development, pipeline, even FX etc. And likely more in demand -and better paid- than animation alone…just so ya knows.


At the same time I don’t think it is a good idea to go down a career path just because overall it is better paid and more secure. Because if he has no interest in it at all, how will he stack up against those who do? For him it could actually result in the opposite outcome.


Thanks for all the help guys, I really appreciate it.

So I guess this is the conclusion on this situation.

  1. I could take this free opportunity, but it would be spent on a CS degree that doesn’t focus on CG.
  2. Going to Ringling isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice addition (I don’t mind it not being focused on modeling and the works, I like the storytelling and animating aspect of it and such)
  3. Even if I go for a school that offers a CS degree that had to do with CG, I’d have to get good at math.

I might’ve missed some stuff, but you guys really helped me see this problem from several perspectives.

I know I said the last question would be long ago, but the deeper I delve into this the more questions I seem to have XD. That being said, if I we’re to take this opportunity, would it’s generalization be able to help me in another form (perhaps creating my own games)? On the other hand, how badly would I sever my chances on getting a job if I don’t go to school at all?


Have you considered a CS degree with a masters in fine arts? That’s a combination that would make you super employable.