A thesis is a two-semester project completed during the final year at SOFA with the one-on-one mentoring of a faculty Thesis Chair.

Film and animation majors make one documentary, experimental, narrative, 2D, 3D, or stop motion short; or write a feature or series. The thesis for film and animation majors is 8 credits, 4 credits each semester.

A feature screenplay thesis should ideally be 90-120 pages, but may not be fewer than 80 pages or more than 140 pages. Scripts less than 90 pages are generally only appropriate for animated features. A written series thesis requires a pilot script for a one hour series, a pilot script and one episode for a half-hour series, or a pilot script and multiple episodes for a web series (60 total script pages minimum). A series thesis also requires a show “bible” that includes background information, character descriptions, and season arcs and/or episode summaries. There should be a minimum of two submitted drafts of each component of a written thesis.

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Collaboration and Co-production

Thesis shorts may be a collaboration where students work together in different roles for thesis credit, with generally only one serving as the lead filmmaker and one or more serving in supporting roles. In rare circumstances two students (maximum) can work in a co-production where they jointly act as the lead filmmaker for thesis credit. In both collaborations and co-productions it is important to specify each student’s rights (such as for creative control and ownership) and responsibilities (such as for expenses). For a co-production to be approved each student must have roughly equal responsibilities, earn the same credit, and work through each phase of production at the same time for, typically, the same grade. These points should ideally be covered in the thesis contract. Generally students share ownership of the finished short based on monetary contribution, and ownership of the rights to remake or spin-off productions based on story contribution. Hence, if a writer/director and a director of photography collaborated and the director of photography paid for the camera rental and gave script suggestions but did not co-write the script, both students would share ownership of the short but only the writer/director would own the right to remake it or develop it as a movie or series.

MFA students can participate in thesis collaborations and co-productions as above but, since there are no MFA craft students, they must always be the lead filmmaker(s) in collaborations.

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Required Courses

Thesis Preparation Seminar (MFA) is taken in the spring semester preceding the thesis year. Before the class even begins students should know what they want to do for their thesis or at least have it narrowed down to a few ideas. During the class students prepare and pitch their thesis proposal. They also find their Thesis Chair and formalize co-productions and collaborations.

Research and Thesis I & II (MFA) cover the actual making of a thesis in the final year. Students meet privately with their Thesis Chair, typically for one hour each week.

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Thesis Chair

During the first five weeks of the spring semester students are responsible for securing a full-time SOFA faculty member to mentor their project. Faculty accept thesis advisees based on past faculty/student relationships, student thesis projects, faculty expertise, and the demand for faculty services from other students.

Each faculty member can only take a limited number of advisees. Hence, the first choice faculty member should be approached early in the Thesis Chair search period. While some faculty prefer students to have selected their thesis idea before making a commitment, others do not. Students who are unable to find a Thesis Chair should speak to the Graduate Director.

Students working in collaboration can have different Thesis Chair. Students working in a coproduction must have the same Thesis Chair.

MFA Thesis Chairs must be full-time SOFA faculty members with an MFA degree. Exceptions must be approved by the Graduate Director.

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Thesis Proposal

With the exception of coproductions, each student prepares his or her own thesis proposal.

Film and Animation

During the spring seminar, students write a thesis proposal with some or all of these sections:

  • Title page with project title, student name, type of thesis, proposal date, and a line for the thesis adviser’s signature
  • Logline(s): A one to two sentence summary of the thesis (collaborations can use the same logline)
  • Treatment(s): A one to three page single-spaced, or one to five page double-spaced, summary of the thesis
  • Rationale: Why this thesis? What is your background, inspiration or motivation, and objective? (This section can begin craft thesis proposals)
  • Vision: What will be your approach to the story, production, and/or characters? (Animators should include rough atmosphere sketches and character designs)
  • Rights and Responsibilities: How will the work, control, costs, and ownership be shared? (Include only in collaboration and coproduction proposals)
  • Support: Will anyone else be working on the thesis? What other resources are in place?
  • Preparation: Was the required thesis preparation successfully completed? If not, what is your justification for receiving an exception?
  • Schedule: Include a realistic timetable for preproduction, production, and postproduction (craft thesis students list their combined schedule for all productions)
  • Budget: Everything needed from preproduction to distribution, including those items that can be acquired from RIT or others at no cost.

Thesis proposals for collaborations should include the proposals of all thesis students. Hence, a directing thesis proposal should have all craft proposals attached, and a craft thesis proposal should have all directing proposals attached (but not other craft proposals). Craft thesis proposals should also include the directors’ thesis contracts (detailed in Thesis Proposal Review).

Students are encouraged to budget funds to reimburse actors for lost work and pay for labor to open locations in off-hours. Students are strongly discouraged from renting cameras, particularly ones they have not previously used.

Both undergraduate and graduate students may propose international thesis projects. Like all thesis proposals, they are subject to approval by a thesis review committee.


Spring (Second Year)

  • Register for Thesis Preparation Seminar (SOFA-780)
    • Find Thesis Chair (Week 2)
    • Prepare Thesis Proposal with Instructor and Chair (Week 3-11)
    • Pass Thesis Proposal with provided committee (Week 12)
    • Establish blog and story refinement in SOFA 780 (Week 13-15)
  • Register for Research and Thesis 1 (SOFA-790)
  • Work with Chair to establish a two-person Thesis Committee (Week 13-15)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee and complete the Plan of Work Form (Week 13-15)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee and complete an FTE form (Week 13-15)
  • Send FTE form to MFA Director for approval (Week 13-15)


Fall (Thesis Year)

  • Setup weekly meeting with Chair to review thesis (Week 1)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee to review progress (Week 7-8)
  • Animation Students can present at Fall Animatic Night (Optional)
  • Continue working on film and having weekly meetings with Chair.
  • Production Students can present at Fall Screenings for WIP (Optional)
  • Register for Research and Thesis 2 (SOFA-890)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee to review progress (Week 14-15)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee and complete the Plan of Work Form (Week 14-15)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee and complete an FTE form (Week 14-15)
  • Send FTE form to MFA Director for approval (Week 14-15)


Spring (Thesis Year)

  • Setup weekly meeting with Chair to review thesis (Week 1)
  • Meet with Chair and Committee to review progress (Week 7-8)
  • Continue working on film and having weekly meetings with Chair.
  • Meet with Chair and Committee to review final film for submission (Week 14-15)
  • Upload for screenings after review from Chair and Committee (Week 14-15)
  • Prepare Artist Statement and attend film screening (Finals Week)
  • Register for Continuance of Thesis (COT)(SOFA-892)
    • Class is tuition free for Summer and Fall semester


Fall (COT Year)

  • Deliver first draft of Thesis Paper to Chair and Committee (Week 7)
  • Receive feedback from Chair and Committee (Week 9)
  • Submit final paper to Chair for review and sign-off (Week 14)
  • Get signatures from Chair and Committee on final paper (Week 14)
  • Submit two files to the library (Week 15)
    • File one is the completed digital paper unsigned (Week 15)
    • File two is the separate signed signature sheet (Week 15)
  • Send approval receipt from the library and the signed file to Kristie Gross (Week 15)

Occasionally, students will not be able to start their thesis until the spring. In such cases, “fall” and “spring” thesis references above (and in most other places) should be switched.

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Thesis Proposal Review

All students must successfully complete the thesis proposal review process. For graduates, this means a three-faculty member review committee in addition to their Thesis Chair. Review committees should not to be confused with MFA thesis committees described below. Review committees only meet once to review thesis proposals. They have no involvement after rendering their initial judgment.

During the spring semester the thesis proposal review schedule will be updated. Graduate proposals are 40 minutes.

Students coordinate with their Thesis Chair to find an available time slot when both are free. Preferably, this should be in a time block when the faculty member is already listed on the schedule. The Thesis Chair then signs the student up for the slot.

Three school days before their thesis proposal review, students must deliver to each member of the review committee a digital copy of their thesis proposal after receiving approval from their Thesis Chair. The digital copy does not require a signature from the Thesis Chair.

The thesis proposal review begins with the Thesis Chair very briefly introducing the student and project. Then the student presents the thesis to the review committee in ten minutes or less. The presentation should not be read nor include PowerPoint or other projected aids. The committee then discusses the thesis. After discussion, the three faculty in the review committee vote. If two members of the review committee approve the project, it passes.

If the thesis proposal is passed without conditions the student may enroll for thesis credit with their Thesis Chair and make their thesis. If the thesis proposal is passed with conditions, the student may enroll for thesis credit with their Chair but not commence or, depending on the conditions, complete their thesis until their Thesis Chair judges that the conditions have been met. Conditions can include such things as additional preproduction steps, length restrictions, or creative suggestions but not creative mandates.

If the thesis proposal is not approved, the student must re-propose. The thesis proposal review schedule allows time for one re-proposal in the spring. The re-proposal must be to a new review committee (which will most likely have some or all new members). Projects not approved before the end of the spring semester must re-propose in the first three weeks of the fall semester.

Whether or not the proposal is approved, the Thesis Chair completes a graduate thesis contract that includes conditions and suggested revisions, if any, which the Thesis Chair and student sign. The Thesis Chair then submits copies of the thesis contract and proposal to the senior staff assistant. The senior staff assistant distributes copies of the thesis contract to the Thesis Chair and student. If the proposal was not approved, the student must include the thesis contract in the re-proposal.

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Thesis Committee

MFA students have a thesis committee led by their Thesis Chair that includes two other members. At least one should be another SOFA faculty member (full-time or part-time, with or without an MFA). Up to one can be an expert in the content of the thesis from outside of SOFA. To keep the thesis proposal review process impartial, aside from the Thesis Chair, SOFA faculty should not be approached about being on a thesis committee until after the thesis proposal has been approved.

Besides providing advice to the student, the other faculty on the thesis committee consult with the Thesis Chair on the student’s grade, FTE Form (if needed), and SOFA MFA Thesis Plan of Work Form, which sets the goals for the coming semester and should be signed by the full committee before submission to the senior staff assistant by the Thesis Chair.

While Thesis Chair meetings typically happen weekly, the full thesis committee typically meets:

  • In the spring semester after the thesis proposal has been approved (but no later than the start of the fall) to complete the Thesis Plan-of-Work Form for the fall semester.
  • In Week 7 or 8 during the fall semester to do a check-in on the project.
  • At the end of the fall semester to assign a grade (R – registered, U – unsatisfactory, or I – incomplete) for the fall work and to complete a Thesis Plan-of-Work Form for the spring.
  • In Week 7 or 8 during the spring semester to do a check-in on the project.
  • At the end of the spring semester to review the thesis and approve for screening.

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule thesis committee meetings when all members can attend, and to have all three members of the thesis committee sign the signature page needed to archive their thesis.

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Animatic Night

MFA students have the option (but not obligation) to participate if there is space available. Recommended presentation criteria include:

  • “Proof of concept” with both image and sound to convey the concept/idea as fully as possible
  • Key images and demonstration of art direction
  • “Sneak Preview” for installation or performance art works—this may also be a verbal presentation that includes supporting images and audio components


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Thesis-in-Progress Screenings (MFA Optional)

MFA students may participate in Thesis-in-Progress Screenings at their option. They present their thesis, after which their Thesis Chair helps lead a discussion to solicit feedback. Students should be prepared to ask the audience specific questions if areas of concern are not addressed. Please note that film and animation Thesis-in-Progress Screenings are in different semesters.


Shorts should include a rough cut of all scenes with synchronized sound. (Incomplete principal photography is grounds for a reduced grade). Ideally, widescreen masks and initial color correction for images shot “flat” should be added. Basic sound levels should be proper and consistent, extraneous sounds such as director’s comments should be removed, and sound effects necessary to understand the story should be added. Ideally, distracting ambiance holes in dialogue scenes should also be filled. Temp music is encouraged but not mandatory. Temp music (only) does not require copyright clearances. Temp titles need only include the title of the short and the name and position of each student earning credit.

Feature scripts should be pitched, with supporting visual materials, to reveal the genre and world, protagonist(s) and antagonist(s), plot and key sub-plot(s) with key turning points, character arc(s), and possibly theme. Series should be similarly pitched but with more emphasis on the world, characters, and potential for ongoing stories. In both cases, the focus should be on the broad concept and structure, not unnecessary details. Presentations should be rehearsed and timed to no more than 20:00, leaving at least 10:00 for discussion in a maximum 30:00 time slot. Pitches may be prerecorded.


All shorts should be fully animated in hardware rendered graphics or pencil test. All camera moves should be animated so that useful critiques can be made for story, character performance, timing, and cinematography. There should be draft titles and credits. Dialogue should be final. Music and sound effects must be included but may be scratch or final tracks.


3D characters should be fully animated. Major elements of the set should be modeled. Final lighting and texturing is not required.

2D shorts should be fully animated (rough) and backgrounds should be roughed in.

Stop motion should have at least 80% of the final animation complete, 20% may be pop-through or blocked. All model/set building should be complete. Compositing may be done later in the spring.

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Thesis Completion Criteria

Thesis students who do not submit to screenings by the deadline will fail the course and be required to screen the following semester to complete their degree.

Film Production
All photography has been completed and all scenes/segments that should be included, are included.

All shots animated (no animatic, storyboard panels or ‘pop through’ shots), all shots completed to consistent standard (if the film is colored, all shots are colored, no ‘line only’ shots allowed). 3D films should be fully splined and rendered, no play blasts.

All Production
i. Students must stick to the proposal contract agreement.
ii. Necessary ADR and Foley work complete.
iii. Music cues are complete and include full rights for use in all forms.
iv. Sound design is complete; mixed effects, voice, and music.
v. Credits include permissions for music and effects.
vi. Color grading complete to standards agreed upon with student.
vii. Full, graphic titles (not temporary) and credits completed.
viii. All intended special effects, digital or practical, must be completed to agreed standards.
ix. Includes opening RIT logo, to not be removed. [but can be moved to the end after screenings]
x. Includes in credits, “Submitted in Partial Fulfillment…”
xi. Copyrighted at very end with year.
xii. Artist’s statement (prior approval recommended).
xiii. Fits within minimum and maximum lengths.
xiv. Captioned.

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Artist Statement

MFA students must write a two page (double-spaced, 12 pt. font) artist statement to share at the final presentation of their thesis. An artist statement is not a thank you speech. Its purpose is to provide a framework through which to view the work and from which an informed discussion can evolve. It is an opportunity for students to offer insight into their background, perspective, purpose, subject, influences, and process. Most importantly, an artist statement should reflect what a student wants to emphasize about his or her short. While students may wish to thank others, that should be separate from the artist statement. Brevity is the soul of wit.

An artist statement can be funny, thought provoking, descriptive, scholarly, etc. Keep in mind that the audience may be just as interested in the original motivation as they are in the changes that took place as the student’s work and knowledge evolved. Students may wish to take any or all of the following in to account:

Personal Background

  • What personal background did you bring to the short? Are you a traveler? Inquisitive by nature? Curious about other cultures? Concerned with “bigger” issues like gender, relationships, identity, etc.? How did that influence the work?
  • What did you initially set out to explore or discover?
  • How did this perspective change as the film took shape?

Purpose and Motive

  • Were you simply motivated by your own interests?
  • What aspect of filmmaking are you exploring in this work (texture, character development, sound, light, interplay of form and function, technology, etc.)?
  • Your purpose or reason for producing this short is often reflected in the process, so how is this short a reflection of your understanding of the craft, practice, and delivery of film and/or animation?

Process, Challenges, and Limitations

  • Were your ideas, understanding, beliefs, or expectations challenged in the process of making this short?
  • How did your ideas develop?

Historical, Critical, and Theoretical Framework

  • What kind of research did you use in the making of the short?
  • What are the creative or artistic influences evident in the short?

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End-of-Semester Screenings

Students cannot be certified for the completion of their degree without screening or presenting a completed thesis at an end-of-semester screening. Students who, for whatever reason, do not screen in the spring, must screen the following fall before they can receive their degree and may need to pay for additional course credit.

Time allotments vary depending on the length of the short, but undergraduates are typically allotted a maximum of 30:00 during the end-of-semester screenings for their thesis screening or presentation. Graduate students may be given more time, when appropriate.

All presentations should leave approximately 10:00 for discussion.

MFA students must also allow approximately 5:00 for their artist statement. Students giving a presentation may optionally incorporate their artist statement into their PowerPoint or prerecording but, if so, it must remain a distinct component.

Students are expected to submit their completed thesis short or presentation to their Thesis Chair and thesis committee for feedback and grading prior to submitting it to the FVASA Screenings Committee for inclusion in the Spring Screenings. Students giving a presentation may also be required to rehearse its content and timing with their thesis adviser.


  • 5:00 story summary, 10:00 script reading, 5:00 artist statement, 10:00 discussion

Students should briefly (within approximately 5:00 total) summarize the full story, as needed, preceding and/or following a prerecorded section of the script. This can be “live” or included in the prerecorded reading.

Students should select a roughly 10-page section of their script and prerecord it as a staged reading. That is to say, cast, rehearse, and simply shoot actors reading it standing or staged as a “black box” play with clear audio. A narrator reads the scene headings and description, either on screen or off screen. Actors perform the dialogue “on book” or “off book” (memorized). One actor can play multiple roles. Character names, parantheticals, and transitions are not read. With thesis adviser permission, description can be summarized and/or non-consecutive pages relating to a cohesive storyline can be used. Students can optionally shoot on location and/or use basic sets, costumes, or coverage but it should not be fully produced (no location lighting or grip equipment). It is a writing, not production, thesis and should be able to be rehearsed and shot in a single weekend. “Live” readings during end-of-semester screenings are not permitted.

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Archive Requirements

All theses must be digitally archived. Files should be named as follows: DegreeYear_Last Name_Description (i.e., BFA2014_Smith_Proposal).

  • Degree: MFA
  • Year: four digits (2015, 2016, 2017, etc.)
  • Last name: your last name
  • Description: Script, Presentation, or Report

Shorts are received for archiving when they are submitted to the Screenings Committee for their end-of-semester screening.

Scripts for MFA Writing theses must include a title page with the script title, student’s name, degree earned, year of completion, and the thesis notice and copyright information required for thesis shorts as detailed in the Credits section of Delivery Requirements. A PDF copy of the script must be emailed to the archive assistant with a copy sent to the thesis adviser. MFA Writing students who do not archive their thesis by the last day of exams are subject to a course incomplete and, therefore, delayed certification of their degree.

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Thesis Documentation

Prior to degree certification, thesis documentation must be completed, approved, and published. MFA students must write a 25-50 page double-spaced manuscript (6,250-15,000 words, excluding the appendix) on the creation and meaning of their thesis including such things as its narrative, aesthetic, and cultural underpinnings; creative breakthroughs; and production challenges. It should also include a summary of and response to audience reactions. Students should become familiar with all requirements well before completing their thesis documentation.

Thesis documentation will be publicly available online through ProQuest and, so, must be in grammatically correct English. Students, particularly non-native speakers, may want to work with the Writing Commons (for structure, or copy editing a few pages at a time) or hire a copy editor for in-depth assistance.

The thesis documentation needs to include the following:

Title Page (example)

  • Thesis Title
  • Candidate’s Name A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in Film and Animation
  • School of Film and Animation
  • College of Art and Design
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Rochester, NY
  • Approval Date (Month Day, Year)

MFA Signature Page (example)

  • Thesis Committee Chair and date
  • Thesis Committee Member (at least one) and date

Abstract Page

  • Entitle page “Abstract”
  • Maximum 300 words that succinctly describe the thesis 
short or script

Introduction (begin manuscript)

  • Thesis statement: what was your creative and research inquiry and motivation?

Review of Research

  • Literature and inspiration, which can include but is not limited to: books, periodicals, interviews, films, and websites
  • Reflect on how research influenced the concept, design, and implementation


  • Clearly describe the thesis parameters
  • Concept, design, and implementation considerations and methodologies
  • Concept, design, and implementation iterations
  • Technical issues, and troubleshooting results


  • Evaluation process and feedback
  • Refinements made as a result of feedback

Conclusion (end manuscript)

  • Significance and/or success of thesis project

Appendix Pages

  • Thesis proposal; script, sketches, or storyboards as appropriate for film or animation; and data collection, surveys, etc., if applicable
  • Seven screenshots, minimum, three of which must be:
    • Title as it appears in the film
    • Your credit(s) as it appears in the film
    • Copyright notice as it appears in the film

Bibliography Page(s)

  • All materials referenced including books, software manuals, websites, etc.


What is submitted?


Continuation of Thesis

MFA students who do not complete their thesis documentation publishing and archiving within the same term that they complete their thesis must enroll for Continuation of Thesis for every following term, including summer, until the thesis documentation is completed, published, and archived. Summers and the first semester after the completion of the thesis may be taken for 0 credits. Additional semesters are charged at 1 credit. MFA students must notify Student Services about whether or not they wish to delay degree certification for a continuation of thesis term. Additional information is available in the College of Art and Design Graduate Policy and Guidelines.

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