May 27, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Expanded Animation Research and Practice (MFA)

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The Master of Fine Arts degree in Expanded Animation Research and Practice (XA) is designed to provide an advanced level, self-directed education and research experience in the field of animation and digital media across industry, academia and the arts. The program welcomes individualist artists who are passionate about the art form, strive for excellence, are interested in social impact and share a commitment to significantly push boundaries in the field of animation.

The XA program’s goal is to nurture 21st-century animation professionals, leaders, directors and visionaries while exploring and innovating new forms of impactful animation research and academic excellence. The curriculum privileges flexibility, interactivity, creativity and research. Graduates design their own highly individual career pathways while maintaining an ability to draw from a wide variety of courses  in the School of Cinematic Arts and collaborate with other schools at USC through the arts, humanities, STEM and social sciences. 

The XA program foregrounds animation as a global journey of expression. Our research concentrations include Experimental Animation, Narrativity, Documentary Animation, Performance Gesture, Animation for Robotics, Virtual Humans and AI, Advanced Character Performance, Cinematic Installations, Fine Art Animation Practice, Gesture Movement, Sound Design, Dreams and Consciousness and Science Visualization.  

The Expanded Animation program is a future-facing MFA that focuses on diversity, critical thinking, community and aesthetically emboldened risk taking. The program faculty and alumnx advisory board draw from the LGBTQ+, Latinx, Black, Asian and API, international and feminist communities. Committed to mentoring each student’s unique and individual vision, the XA program emphasizes advanced animation practice bridging multiple disciplines and schools at USC and in Los Angeles (itself an international arts locus), as well as internationally through internships, residencies, academic research, teaching and exhibition opportunities.  

The Expanded Animation program is a three-year, six-semester degree and requires a minimum of 50 units: 30 units are prescribed sequential courses in Expanded Animation with an additional 20 units of electives from the School of Cinematic Arts, 6 of which must be from a prescribed list. A thesis project is required for the MFA degree.

Prior knowledge of fundamental animation concepts and techniques is recommended. Admission is granted once a year in the fall; there are no spring admissions. Approximately ten students will be enrolled in each incoming class.

For more information on the application deadline, see

The Graduate School Two-Thirds Rule

The school requires 50 units minimum to graduate from the MFA in Expanded Animation program, and two-thirds must at the 500-level, not including 4 units of CTXA 594a  and CTXA 594b  Master’s Thesis.

Requirements for the MFA in Expanded Animation

Year Three, First Semester

Year Three, Second Semester

Total Required Units: 36

*A minimum total of 14 elective units must be taken.

Cinematic Arts Electives

To complete the 50 units required for the MFA in Expanded Animation, students are required to take a minimum of 14 School of Cinematic Arts elective units. 

Thesis Project

In order to begin work on the thesis project, students must first successfully propose their project to a committee of MFA Expanded Animation faculty. Their proposal is prepared during the spring semester of their second year as part of their pre-thesis class CTXA 591 . A thesis project can be a collaboration with other graduates, departments or schools.

In order to pass the pre-thesis class, the thesis proposal must be presented and approved by the thesis committee at the end of the fourth semester. If the student elects to change their thesis proposal, they will need to arrange for an additional meeting with the committee to seek the committee’s approval. Throughout the pre-thesis and thesis years of study, students will meet regularly with an MFA Expanded Animation faculty adviser to develop and refine the proposal and discuss the progress of their work. The adviser will be a member of the thesis committee.

The proposal itself will include a written treatment of the project with a discussion of similar work in the field and its relationship to the proposed project. It will describe esthetic issues to be explored and specific techniques to be employed in its realization. It will also include storyboard or visualization documentation, budget, and schedule, in addition to supporting materials created by the student demonstrating his/her/their ability to pursue the project. The faculty committee will make comments and decide whether the student may go forward with his/her/their project. Upon acceptance, the student will begin work on the project, otherwise revising the proposal and meeting again with the committee.

A mid-residency review of the thesis project will take place in the first semester of the final year of study. The student must show that deadlines set in the proposal have been met and that progress consistent with the proposal has been made. The committee may, if necessary, suggest modifications to the project, which the student is then obligated to implement.

In the final year, students concentrate on their thesis projects, completing research, production and post-production. The student’s thesis will be presented to the committee upon completion

Completion is defined as a fully rendered, animated work with a completed soundtrack (guide mix acceptable). In the case of installation or gallery work the piece must be mounted in a suitable space with all sound and animated components completed and functional.

In the case of an interactive, VR, AR or AI driven work the piece must be fully functional with completed animation, sound, programming, and interactivity.

In addition to completion of the thesis project the student must provide the thesis committee with written and visual documentation of the research. This will be documented as a website or PDF. The documentation will comprise the following and could include a publishable research paper:


Artist’s statement and/or research paper
Learning objectives - focus of research
Type of project – animation, installation, AR, VR, AI, interactive etc.

Research presentation in what format/medium the project will be seen
Script and storyboard or conceptual drawings if applicable
Style approach, including source references for image shot structure etc.
Sound design and references

Collaborators - if any
Audience - who is it intended for and who will benefit from the research

Marketing and distribution plan 

Criteria for successful completion include: 40 percent originality, 40 percent quality of execution and 20 percent research documentation.

Grade Point Average Requirements

A grade point average of at least 3.0 (A= 4.0) must be maintained in all USC course work toward the master’s degree. Courses in which a grade of C- (1.7) or lower is earned will not apply toward a graduate degree. Courses below a C must be repeated. 

Time Limit

Students must maintain satisfactory progress toward their master’s degrees at all times. The time limit to complete all requirements is three years from the first course at USC applied toward the Master of Fine Arts degree. Course work more than seven years old is invalidated and will not be applied toward the degree.

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