Meet the Artist: Feng Zhu

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  04 April 2005
Hey FZ!

It's cool that you're doing this - great opportunity to pick your brain!

As you know, the concept design profession is all about executing someone else's vision. I know you have some sort of Sketchgirl/toy venture going, but have you ever had the desire or inclination to create your own property? (As in a movie pitch, comic book story/character, game design, etc.)


Francis Tsai
TeamGT Studios

  04 April 2005
Hi Feng
Just wanted to say you are doing amazing work.
I hope you will keep up adding workshops to your new site, which is amazing btw
Also could you possibly release your painter brushes (like ryan church), that is, if you use any special ones
Anyways great work and hoping to see more Loved the demos you did on, but unfortunately most of the links are broken now :( Wish you could re-post then if you still have the image ?
Reflection Design
  04 April 2005
Hey Feng,

I was really wanted to know about the books and products you have coming out, can you give out any info on what will be coming out and when? Is the book still planned to be coming out? Are the posters on Gnomon the ones that were coming out(I got both already)..cause on your site there was some that were smaller size..this one...

are those coming out too?..maybe some more dvds?

I also wanted to ask about environment design. When you went to school what books or things did you study...or did you just study perspective? do you just study reference or are their books you had in school that taught you things about buildings? do you study like floor plans or just look at cool buildings?

Well it was great to see your art in the Art of Revenge book you're one of the artists I really look up to and get inspiration from.



P.S how was C3? looked like fun I wish I was able to have gone down there and meet the group.
  04 April 2005
hello FengZ

1. How important was your education [academic] on the larger scale, or it was just your drive that got you through?
2. You've worked on such great inspiring movies like STAR WARS, but what kind of movies inspire you? any favorites?
3. What's your favourite cheese?

may the force be with you!

  04 April 2005
Hi Feng!

I love your concepts man! You have great talent in design, compositing, color...

You seem to be really at home in both traditional and digital medias-

What do you like about each (advantages and disadvantages from your perspective) and how do you decide which to use when you approach a project?
The Seer is the soul of the artist,
Revealing the Mystery as form
-Alex Grey
  04 April 2005
Hi Feng, it's really great to have you here

I would like to know how long did it take you to reach this high level of sketching/painting etc.?

If you don't mind and if it's possible, could you post some older work that date from your late teen years/early twenties? I'm really curious about it.

  04 April 2005
To add to the question of RudyOne: (Hoi Rudy :P)

How did you develop your skills? (certain teachers or some inspiring books or just keep on drawing and designing) How did you begin drawing and what did inspire you to keep on drawing/designing get to the next level? How do you look back on your development and what big insights did you get over the years?
  04 April 2005
Hi Feng,

A couple of quick questions:

1. How many of your concepts for games ever reach the public domain? Do you find that many of your game concepts are hidden within the game developer's studios and don't get shown to the public?

2. Do you use much reference for your images? It seems from your tutorials that the majority of your images are drawn straight from your imagination. Is this because you have a stock of reference in your brain from the past that you use when composing images or do you use reference on the side (for details and suchlike).

Thanks! I really enjoy your work and find it very inspiring.

All the best.

My Spectacular Entry
  04 April 2005
Hi Fengh

many many 3d artists all over the world, no matter which software they use, love your concept art and so its often used as an inspiration and as a "blueprint" for private work (training or just-for-fun projects).

i'm a big fan of the manga/anime super-stylized look and the movements in anime-movies.

my question: are you inspired my manga/anime work and/or the anime/manga style itself (not nessecarely from japan or any eastern country)?

  04 April 2005
hey Fang, its awesome to interact with you.
heres my questions

#1 where do you find your inspirations from? any perticuler artist?

#2 why did you start concept drawing? what motivated you?

#3 what type of designs do you enjoy the most? environmental/character/machine?

thats about it from me... i'll be waiting for your reply
  04 April 2005
Hi Feng
You're one of my favorite artists!
I've just one question: where do you find your inspiration? How do you concept such designs? Only in mind, or do you re-use already existing things?
  04 April 2005
Hey everyone,

Thank you for all the great questions. Okay, here we go. Iíll try to keep the answers short, so I can get through all this in a timely fashion =)


I donít really have a favorite piece of work. Usually, my favorite tends to be the one I just finished. I always try to push myself with every new image. Even if I improve 1% on my new piece, then Iím happy.


1. Yes, for the past 2 years, Iíve worked exclusively in digital; no paper at all. I find digital to be much faster, simply because of the undo button. It allows me to experiment with new shapes, without worrying about messing anything up. My approach has changed slightly. I no longer do a lot of thumbnails before starting. Now I just start sketching, and refine the design as I go. Again, all because of the undo function.

2. I actually worked full time at Skywalker Ranch. I did do freelance for about one month from Los Angeles in the beginning. This is because they had to see how well George responded to my sketches before moving me up there (the Ranch) full time.

I got the Ep3 job like any other job. I submitted a portfolio, waited, and finally got the call. I heard about the recruitment from Ryan Church (a friend of mine from school). It was a long wait though, since George wasnít hiring at the time. I got the call from Fay (our lovely office manager), after about 2 month of submitting my portfolio.

3. Iím working on a broad range of projects right now. Iím currently doing work for EA redwood, EA Los Angles, EA Florida, Epic games, Digital Extremes, ROBOT, and 3D Realms. I might go back to working with James Cameron soon as well.

4. I actually know 3D MAX somewhat well. However, I donít use it in production. I taught myself the program so I can communicate with 3D artists better; to understand the language. I do enjoy 3D, and plan to work with it more in the future. Not doing it myself, but rather, to team up with other 3D artists to work on projects together.

5. Iím good friends with Ryan Church. We see each other often for dinners and such. Heís actually down in LA now, working on another movie. We might be working on something in the future, but thatís pretty hush hush at this point =)

6. Portfolio, portfolio, and portfolio. Thatís all! Your portfolio is everything. If you do good work, companies will notice you. Word of mouth travels extremely fast these days. Post a few images on CGtalk, get noticed, and youíll be working in a few days =)

7. Iím 28 now. I started working at age 20 (first job was with EA actually). I feel much older though, probably because Iíve been working for almost 10 years now, without much of a break. Iíve also worked in so many studios, instead of one steady job. Time is a blur to me now.


Well, concept design appeals to many people because of the end result I believe. Movies, games, theme parks, products, etc are seen / used by so many. It feels good to be responsible for products that many people on this planet will have contact with.

I chose this career path because I love games and films. I grew up with movies such as Star Wars, Bladerunner, Alien, etc. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to work in this industry.


My work flow is pretty standard. I start with a rough sketch; refine it till I like the design. Then I do an overlay and clean up the sketch. From that point, I paint/render it in both Painter and Photoshop. Since I work digital now, I no longer need a scanner.


Make sure you truly understand what concept design is before going into it. Concept design is about expressing your imagination via artwork. Clients are paying you for your ideas and designs. I often run into many students who donít really understand concept design. There are many artists out there who are skilled at doing art, but not at design. Painting a photo-real picture of your dog, or a lighthouse is nice, but itís not concept design. You have to have a great imagination to succeed in this field. You need to be able to come up with new shapes, designs, etc, with nothing in front of you except for a piece of paper or a blank canvas.


1. I use both Photoshop and Painter at the same time. I switch between the two depending on what Iím doing.

2. The best tip: there is no secret to drawing. The more you do it, the better youíll get. Itís all about mileage. A lot of people try to look for shortcuts, but there arenít any. Just bite the bullet and do the work. There is no easy path.

3. I answered this question above.

4. Iím sure you can order the DVDs in Canada. Check with the Gnomon Workshop website.


Well, I went to design school first, and they made us do a lot of homework. Art Center gave us so much work that I didnít have time for any social life. I pulled many all-nighters, and worked through every weekend. The point of this is to build mileage.

Donít compare your speed to others, this will only frustrate you. A professional whoís been drawing for 10 years will be much faster than a student starting out, so itís not a fair comparison. Just draw at your own pace and youíll get faster over time.


I had the best time in my professional career working at Skywalker Ranch. George provided us with an awesome work environment, like no other on this planet. The team we had is some of the best designers on this planet. I couldnít have asked for more. I learned a lot from the artists there. Everyone was super talented and willing to help each other.

Most of us work in small teams on projects Ė ranging from 2-5 artists per project. This industry is tiny, especially when it comes to films. We pretty much know everyone in this industry, and end up working together on most projects.


I get my inspiration from everything. My biggest influence is nature. I love animals, plants, land formations, etc. Concept design is never ďoriginal.Ē Itís about bring shapes and forms from this planet together to create something new.

Producing new designs is always stressful. Since 1977 with Star Wars, so much has been done. Itís very hard to be original these days. Iím always doing research, reading books, watching movies, etc to get inspired for project. Itís going to be interesting to see what the next ďbigĒ influence is. We had Star Wars, Matrix, LOTR,Ö.whatís next? Itís getting harder and harder.


Iíve been doing this for 8 years now. I went into this industry because I love it! I remember watching Star Wars for the first time, and thinking, ďthis is what I want to work on!Ē I also remember playing some early video games and thinking of the same thing. You guys remember The Legend of Kyrandia (sp?) by Westwood? That game really impressed me back then, because it was all hand drawn and painted. I knew I wanted to be part of this industry from an early age.


Perspective is a set of rules. If you want to learn it, just take a few classes and read some books. Itís not easy, but once you get through it, it becomes second nature. However, because itís so hard, many people decide to skip it. Perspective is like math. If you donít know it, you canít fake it. If you know perspective well, youíll always be a step ahead. Most artists, I say up to 95%, do character and creature design. Rarely can someone do hard-surface designs such as environments and vehicles. Studios are always looking for good ID (industrial design) guys. They are rare.

Learning about color/lighting just takes experience. Study other painters and see how they approach their work. Take on photography to learn about lighting. And always be observing the environment around you. And practice a lot. Start painting with big shapes; donít worry about details or refinement. Get used to working with values and light, instead of line work.


Well, speaking from experience, those who can do environments well can usually do characters okay, but rarely the other way around. If you read my answer above, youíll see that perspective is a set of rules. If you donít know it, you canít do it.

Character design is hard, but I think itís a lot more forgiving then doing perspective heavy environments. Just look around CGtalk. Youíll notice 90% of the 2D posts involve characters or creatures. You rarely see artists posting perspective pieces.

If you want to be an all around concept designer, get to know both subject matters well.

I donít plan on teach for a while, because of my busy schedule. But perhaps sometime next year?


Hey Francis! Yes, the toy designs are almost done. They should be on the market in a few months. I do have many other projects in the works right now.

You are correct. We do a lot of work for other companies, and they always own our ideas. However, Iíve learned from this, and so Iíve been trying to work on my own projects. Besides the toys, Iíve got a book in the works, some possible script ideas, and even game development. =)


The brushes I use in Painter are all default ones Ė nothing special. The best way to learn painter is to just experiment with a few brushes, and expand that brush library as you get used to the program. I mainly use the camel hair brush and the standard airbrush.

Iíll try to put the old tutorials back on my website soon.


The book wonít be out till 2006. Iíve been working on it, but itís a lot of work. I donít want to give out too much information on it yet, but itís not going to be an ďart of Feng ZhuĒ book (filled with random drawings). Rather, itíll contain a story element along with paintings and sketches.

The only posters available at this point are the ones from Gnomon. If they spark an interest, we definitely plan to expand the series. Weíll just have to wait and see I guess.

Your perspective question is answered a few questions above. Basically, no, you canít really learn perspective by looking at buildings. You have to sit down, learn the rules, and follow it. For example, you canít do complicated math until you know the basics of 1+1. Perspective works the same way; the rules are simple, but it can get very complicated when applied to the real world.


1. Education is very important. However, that said, it is not necessary. You can teach yourself everything, but I wonít recommend that. When you are learning on your own, there is no one around to tell you about mistakes, or give you advice, or the most important, pressure you to work hard.

Schools basically accelerate your education, and direct you in the correct path. It also puts you into an environment surrounded by peers interested in the same subject matter. This friendly competition will aid you in many ways.

2. Many movies inspire me. I donít have a direct top 3 list, because movies effect in different ways. Some inspire me purely for design, other for story. But some of my favorite movies are: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Alien + Aliens, Bladerunner, The Shawsank Redemption, The Iron Giant, Gladiator, Toy Story, Forest Gump, and Brave Heart. There are many more of courseÖ.

3. SwissÖhahah


I work purely digital now. For production, digital is much faster. The undo-key is the main reason for this. With traditional mediums, you are pretty much locked in once you start inking or painting. Digital allows you to change anything at any point, without fear of messing anything up. Itís also faster to work with (not paint to mix, dry, etc). And since everything is pretty much digital these days, it allows me to integrate my work with 3D artists much easier.


Well, Iíve been doing this for 8 years now, but I am no where close to where I want to be; skill wise. I have much to learn.

Iíll try to dig up some old sketches and post them up tomorrow..

Okay, too tired. Will continue this tomorrowÖ.=)

  04 April 2005
Hi Feng, I had the pleasure of attending your seminar at the 3D Festival in Copenhagen. I almost didnt make it there from my hotel room due to urr.. a late night, but I'm so glad I did.
Until then I had not considered doing concept art, but I was so inspired that I've been one track minded since. I've had lots of freelance work which I've learnt from greatly... Thanks!!

My question is... do you think a degree is paramount? I have the option of doing a degree in Animation (which covers illustration and concpept art), or a fine art degree. In your experience, which would be more benificial. Also, I am pushing 29 and have worked as a graphic artist for over 10 years... is it ever too late to start?

Thank you so much! - Jez

  04 April 2005
Hey Feng
The studio I work for recently bought your gnomon tutorial CD on perspective in landscapes, it was brilliant. I just wanted to thank you for creating that, it was really inspirational to watch and made everything very simple and easy to understand. For someone like me who never quite got it, you finally helped me understand the basics of perspective and how to use it. One of the things I love most is being able to watch other artists draw, from the basic building blocks up, and it was a privilage to see your working style like that. Thank you for lending a hand to us budding concept artists.
Visit my website: HB-Art

"I try to make everyone's day a little more surreal." - Calvin and Hobbes
  04 April 2005
hello again!

read all of your answers, and they were good! but I'm afraid I'll have to go with cheader [cheese] [not to sure about the spelling [or my English ]]

what's George [Lucas] like? Is he picky in designs and concepts? does he makes you redo same work over and over until he gets the right reflections 'nd stuff or is he a' ok-guy [or maybe you don't meet him at all, just by mail]? Is work at Skywalker Ranch hard or sort of layd back?

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