Let’s be honest – the cost of education at a private art school is highway robbery. Even this feature from five years ago shows how the thousands of dollars of debt a student could potentially rack up chasing their dream of working in animation, VFX or games is getting out of hand. And what if you’re already a working professional who is juggling production schedules, family life and trying to stay on top of all the latest techniques and tools?

The following 10 resources are meant to help you improve the skills you’ve got under your belt and maybe learn some new ones. These are the most flexible options that won’t force you to refinance your house in order to afford them. They are presented in no particular order and are not sponsored in any way.

Screen-Shot-2013-05-31-at-5.15.56-AMComputer Graphics Master Academy (CGMA)2dclassroom.cgmasteracademy.com

Focusing primarily in 2D fundamentals, CGMA offers a variety of classes ranging from Analytical Figure Drawing, Character Design for Production and Environment Design. Because the instructors are current working professionals with years of experience, the materials presented are specifically targeted for animation and feature film productions. Lectures are delivered via pre-recorded videos while weekly live feedback reviews let you know how your progressing. Tuition: $699 for 10 week class. 

MotivartiLogoMotivartimotivarti.org

Motivarti is somewhat unique in this list. The program offers an exclusive one-on-one mentoring experience with an entertainment industry professional focusing on visual development, story and character design. You are required to submit a portfolio and application before the mentors select their mentees. What’s great is that if offers continual engagement with an instructor who can guide, advise and shape your learning experience. Tuition: $595 + application fees for three month program. 

Skillshare-01-580x2851Skillshareskillshare.com

Certainly the most varied of all the learning options, Skillshare is also the cheapest. The online membership service currently offers access to 2023 online classes with topics including business, introduction to adobe CC, film theory, screenplay writing and presentation skills to name a few. Fair warning, the instructors are not all industry professionals so you might have to dig a little to find the class that’s best for you. Fortunately, if you’re just trying it out, it won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Membership: $10/month or $8/month (if you purchase a year pass). 

ianimate_net_textiAnimateianimate.net

An intense bootcamp for animation, iAnimate offers workshops for feature animation, film animation, game animation and creature animation. Additionally, you can supplement your animation knowledge with workshops dedicated to lighting & compositing, motion capture, rigging and modeling in Maya. With the widest range of available rigs of any online school and classes taught by instructors currently working at major studios, iAnimate will test your animation chops and is guaranteed to improve your skills. Demo reels must be submitted to be considered. Tuition: $1698 for 11 week animation classes, $999 for 11 week rigging, lighting, mo-cap and modeling classes. 

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Animation Mentoranimationmentor.com

The original online animation school founded by animators Bobby Beck, Shawn Kelly and Carlos Baena, the biggest pro to the AM option is the thriving community and support network. You will learn as much or more from the extensive AM community while learning from the best animators in the business. AM offers some strong, yet recognizable rigs for character animation and creature animation as well as a Maya springboard class for the uninitiated and a storyboard fundamentals class. Tuition: $2499 for 12 week class. The total character animation program will run you $14,994 before fees. 

Schoolism_logo2Schoolismschoolism.com

A la cart learning at its finest. With Schoolism, you can choose to pay for a yearlong subscription for a single class, pay $1 to switch classes OR pay a little extra for select classes to get video feedback from the instructor. Focusing more on visual development topics like light & color, creature anatomy and character design, you can also check out interviews with some of the most noted artists in the business for free. Tuition: $144/year with $1 change of class fee. 

3d-animation-school-animschool-big_0_345AnimSchoolanimschool.com

In addition to a robust character animation course, AnimSchool also has a strong 3D character program that teaches you the craft of character modeling and rigging. Learn how to incorporate appeal and strong design from the modeling phase all the way through posing in animation. For more advanced students, you can pick up Zbrush modeling, rigging automation and tools development as well as environmental modeling. Tuition: $1800/11 week term

digital_tutors_mainDigital Tutorsdigitaltutors.com

Our pick for the best bang for the buck. With over 2300 courses, the ability to track progress, downloadable project files, offline viewing and new courses added almost daily, Digital Tutors is by far the most well rounded option out there. While it may not offer live feedback like some of the other sites, it gives you the most flexibility in terms of how and when you want to learn a topic. DT also offers courses on Game Development and CAD and allows you to learn either by subject or by software. We can’t recommend this one highly enough. Membership: $29/month or $49/month with offline viewing and project files. 

lynda_logoLyndalynda.com

By far the largest repository of educational content on this list, Lynda offers access to over 12,000 videos in just 3D+Animation alone. Be careful though, you might find yourself picking up some web developer skills along with some business fundamentals if you go too deep down the Lynda rabbit hole. A little more on the drier side, the academic approach to topics gives a thoroughness that’s hard to beat. Membership: $24.99/month

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Gnomon Workshopthegnomonworkshop.com

An offshoot of the Gnomon Workshop which we detailed in our “brick and mortar” article, the Gnomon library features a collection of every fantastic DVD lesson from over the years. Incredibly detailed, advanced level courses provide insight and inspiration from masters (like Iain McCaig) as they break down how they create some of the most amazing visuals. Membership: $59/month or $499/year.

fxphdFXPHDfxphd.com

Focusing on VFX, motion graphics, 3D and production, fxphd offers over 100 in-depth courses meant to improve your skills in a way that directly will improve your work. One of the only places that currently offers a VR bootcamp, you’ll be able to pick the brains of professionals in the private member forums as well. With additional insight provided on the fxguide.com website and through their regular podcasts, this is a great option for artists and technical staff looking for a skill boost. Standard membership: $350/10 weeks.