CSUN Ranked Among Top Animation Schools in the United States

Animation Students, sit in front of mac computers, and discuss potential projects in art class room, with movie posters from different animated movies on the wall

Industry professionals invited to CSUN offer student portfolio critiques. Pictured here from left to right, student Ray Boykins, Award winning artist storyboard artist Craig Kemplin, Disney animator Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, Sebastian Duran, Matthew McFarlane, Sony artist Denise Koyoma.

California State University, Northridge has been recognized as one of the top schools in the country for animation by “Animation Career Review,” a comprehensive online source for aspiring animators, game developers and digital art and design.

CSUN was ranked No. 15 among the 50 best public schools in the country and No. 17 among the top 25 public and private universities in the West Coast. Other schools on the lists included the University of Southern California (USC), University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), California State University, Fullerton, and California State University, Long Beach.

Ranking criteria included a university’s academic reputation and admission selectivity; depth and breadth of the program and faculty; value as it relates to tuition and indebtedness; and geographic location.

The Department of Art, housed in CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communications, offers both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in visual arts with a concentration in animation. Many of the department’s faculty have worked as industry professionals and teach a variety of courses offering training in two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation design, as well as video game and visual effects animation.

Robert St. Pierre, assistant professor of art and a professional industry veteran of more than two decades, said the program is competitive because of its robust curricula taught by faculty with professional industry experience, whom have standing relationships within the industry.

“We have high expectations of what our students need to accomplish in preparation for the industry and the rigorous assignments are beneficial to them,” St. Pierre said. “We know what kind of skillsets and portfolios the industry expects and that is the benchmark we use to prepare our students.”

St. Pierre said that CSUN’s proximity to studios in Los Angeles, which is the national and international epicenter for animation, gives the university’s faculty and students a strategic advantage. The program offers real-world experience through internships and assignments that specifically and accurately prepare students for the reality of what they’re going to face.

The department hosts a career day once a year inviting industry professionals to review students’ portfolios and lead panel discussions, providing students with tremendous career insight.

The Animation Student League of Northridge (ASLN), which is CSUN’s animation club, invites a minimum of four guests to the campus multiple times a year from major studios such as Disney and Pixar. The club also performs community outreach services to local high schools, offering peer education, and connects with students who are considering CSUN for a career in animation.

St. Pierre attributed many of the program’s recent advancements in large part due to Mark Farquhar, animation professor of seven years and the department’s animation area coordinator of five years. Farquhar, who worked for more than 20 years as a professional feature character animator for companies like Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and Pixar, helped to grow the department by implementing a more rigorous curriculum, improving its relationships with studios and building access to equipment and software. He also played a role in acquiring grants that help create pathways for high school and community college students to Tier 1 schools.

Farquhar said he became a professor because he enjoyed the mentoring aspect of the field, as it is a mentoring-heavy industry. Having taught at different institutions, including community college, Farquhar was most excited to teach at a university like CSUN because of the students.

“When I came to CSUN the students really impressed me with their attitude and their interest in learning,” Farquhar said. “They want to learn, they don’t have an over-entitlement that you get in some places. They’re here for the right reasons.”

Farquhar said attitude is as important as skills in succeeding in the industry.

“There’s a lot of talented people and you have to be able to work with people, and being able to navigate the work environment is a huge thing,” he said. “With creative production, collaborating, incorporating other people’s ideas and trying to work as a team — those skills are super important.”

Due to the breadth and competitiveness of the program, both Farquhar and St. Pierre said they expect CSUN’s rankings to rise.

“The animation department is growing and I can’t tell you how excited I am,” St. Pierre said. “We are aiming for number one, just give us a few years.”

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