Meet the Artist: Feng Zhu

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  05 May 2005
Im sure Feng is busy....we as ppl in the industry doing similar things should understand...hehe(sometimes i just dont)
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  05 May 2005

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the delay. I had a really busy weekend (moving into my new studio, more on this later). Iím super swamped this week, so Iíll have to try to answer everything quickly. Again, if you have some more personal questions, feel free to email them to me.

And thanks again for all the encouraging words and wonderful questions!


Interesting questions; well, I definitely see concept art growing more into the 3D realm of things. Currently, a majority of the concept art is done in 2D, by hand. However, I see more and more studios starting to use 3D to conceptualize designs. This is not a bad thing, except us 2D guys better starting learning 3D. =)

As far as technology goes, I bet someone will write a ďconcept artĒ generator program. Of course this may should weird, but imagine a 3D software that contains a library of millions of objects. This ďsmartĒ program will know how to combine these objects in a somewhat realistic way. The entire interface will be slider based. For example, I input: future city with Paris architecture mixed with 1920s New York, plus organic sea life. This program will start to generate shapes. I can use sliders to control how far things go. Of course this program wonít get you 100% to a final design, but I bet it can get you at least 70% there. There are a lot of potential for a software package like this. It wonít take over our jobs, but it can enhance it.


Yes, Iíve seen screen shots of Obivion. It looks pretty cool. Maybe Iíll drop those guys an email. =) Iím super busy enough though; but Iíd still love to work on that game.

1. Inspiration stories? Hmmm, well, I have a lot. Most of these stories come from Iain McCaig. Iím sure heíll be ask to do this Q/A soon, so Iíll let him answer this later.

2. Well, self discipline is the best type of time management. For example, if your friends are asking you to go hang out, but you have work to do, itís all up to you to say no. Another thing is to try to remove yourself from the rest of the world when you are working. I do this by watching DVDs or listening to music. Distractions are the major source of ďcorruption.Ē It just takes time to learn these disciplines.


I donít have a preference when it comes to PCs or Mac. I like them both! Right now, I use a PC for all my work; this is because I do a lot of game design, and most games run on PCs. So itís easier for me to run demos and such when clients send them to me. But as far as drawing, both platforms work well.

I havenít noticed any ďoff-colorĒ problems with my Cinema displays. Their colors are very true to my print-outs (Epson 1280).

I drive a Honda Accord Coup for regular days, and an Audi TT on weekends or to the beach =) And no, I donít have a motorcycle, but I might get one in the future ( and just a funny side story: when I worked at the Ranch, I shared a house with two blonde strippers. They were into motorcycles as wellÖ.we had about 8 bikes in our garageÖ.Lucas Valley Road is a great place to ride).


Yes, I do plan to take on some interns soon. Send me some of your work. Iíve been talking to a few students at ACCD about internships and independent studies.


1. I wasnít really into ďAmericanĒ comics when growing up. I love European ones, especially anything by Juan Gimenez and Frazatto.

2. Yes, Iím Chinese. However, sad to say, I donít have much connection to my roots.

3. If you want to work in Hollywood, then LA is one of the places to be. There are a lot of jobs out here. However, LA is not the only place. And like any city, most parts are safe, but there are bad areas. You just have to know your way around.

4. Painter is difficult to learn at first. But if you manage through the first week, the rest comes easy.

5. I have some 3D work on my website.

6. I donít think my business manager would like me to tell everyone our yearly income. But donít worry, if you work hard in this industry, you will make a good living. Youíll be right up there with doctors, lawyers and high profile architects. I answered a question about rates before; if you do some math, you can figure things out =)


For inking, I use Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens (0.3 and 0.4 size). For markers, I use Prisma Color Markers (grays in 10, 30, 50, and 70 percents, and black). Thatís about all I use. And I just use regular copy machine paper.


I didnít take me too long to learn 3DMAX. Of course I only know the basics, but itís enough for me to make most objects. Iíd say it took me about 1 month to get the hang of it.


Iíve met with many agents and business managers. You just have to search around until you find the right one. And since they deal with your money, you better trust them 100% =) Iím using a business manager to help me keep track of my clients, invoices, and taxes. Without here, I would go crazy. Haha..


I will take a look at your website soon.


1. The game industry is a lot easier to break into. Most films require you to be in the Union, and if you read my previous post, you can see how hard it is to get in. For games, Iíd recommend you to send them a physical portfolio. But at the same time, make youself an online portfolio, and spread the web address around. Try to avoid ďcold-callingĒ clients, and it may annoy them. Instead, get to know the art directors or producers first, then send them an email after.

2. There is no right answer to this question. My studio is in LA, but that doesnít mean all the jobs are here. In fact, of all my current clients, only one is located here in town (EALA). All my other clients are either in other parts of the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Because of the internet, freelancing has become a lot easier.

3. Yes, I am looking for interns. My studio needs about 1 or 2. Send me your portfolio.


Nice sketch! Keep at it.

Yes, Iíve written my own stories. In fact, Iím turning one of them into an illustrated book right now. Hopefully itíll be out by sometimes next year. No, I donít play any instruments, though when I get some free time, Iíd love to learn the Piano.

Iíve actually never played D&D. I remember seeing other kids play it at school, but I wasnít really into it. I was more interested in just drawing at the time I guess. I did try to play Warhammer once; fun stuff, but it didnít grab my interest.


1. No, none of my work for Ep3 was digital. I did everything with pen and marker.

2. You are not seeing all my work on my website. The images on there are mostly my early stuff, nothing crazy. You are missing about 95% of my currently portfolio. =)

3. Well, most of the time, clients would contact me, and then my business manager would follow up. However, if I really want to work with someone, Iíll have my business manager contact them. Iíve also been working freelance for a while now, so I have a study list of clients.

4. I just add textures using Photoshop (over-lay layer mostly).

5. There isnít much more to the union then what I wrote before. Basically, you have to be in the union to work on most films. To get in, youíll need 30 days on a non-union film before it goes union. Or, if the production designer makes you a special case, they can get you in (but rarely does this happen). To onto non-union films, look on the back of Variety.


Sounds like you need more experience. Just keep drawing. You are letting the frustration part get to you. Just ignore that, and keep sketching out your ideas. When I first started, I can probably only capture 10% of whatís in my mind onto paper. However, now I can capture to about 80%. Another thing you can try is to copy some existing designs. Draw some X-wings, or Abram Tanks. This will get you familiar with shapes.


Sure, you can use that image for a 3D model. Good luck! I look forward to seeing it modeled.


Yes, I agree with you. But in the real world, things just donít work that way. Thereís reality, and then thereís Hollywood reality. =)


Wow, thatís pretty nice! How long did it take you to do that? Very impressive.


I get around the rotation problem by using Painter. I canít draw for sh*t in photoshop =) But with painter, you can spin the canvas on screen, therefore mimicking the way I work on paper.


I like to place on VP on the image, and another one off screen. Learn this by looking at Syd Mead paintings. He is the master at perspective drawings.


Man, I loved Kyrandia. Sometimes I just want to go back and re-play all those adventure games. Some of my other favorites include: Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion (loved this one!!!), the Dig, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Space Quest and Kings Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry. Ahh, the good old days.


Iíll post up the other Star Wars girls soon (my work machines are all off line right now, because of the office move).

Nice sketch by the way! Man, I shouldíve done a red-guard myself. Why didnít I think of it??! Haha


1. Iíve answered this question already.

2. This is pretty much answered too.

3. Yes, Iíve reached my bandwidth. There are way too many jobs for me to handle. However, my business manager does a good job of scheduling my time; so I have some time to get all my projects done each week. However, I will be hiring artists soon, to help expand my studio. Iíll start with interns first. Iíve also partnered up with James Clyne, to form Gamma Ray studios. Iíll more on this later.

4. Well, since I work freelance, I donít have to over-see projects much. However, I actually enjoy management sometimes. I worked as a Creative Director for NCsoft before, and it was pretty fun. But as far as challenges, the most I deal with is with design itself. Sometimes clients donít understand the difference between ďdesign timeĒ and ďdrawing time.Ē Yes, if I had a design already in my head, I can probably draw it out very quickly. But since clients are hiring me to come up with new designs, I have to spend the time to think of them. Some in-experienced clients donít understand this, and question why sometimes itíll take me 3 hours to do a 30min sketch. Well, the thing is, yes, it only took me 30min to sketch it, but another 2.5 hrs was spend designing it.

5. I do a little of both. I have my own work machines that I keep only at the studio. I also have a system that I can carry to jobs (itís a powerful PC, but built into one of those tiny cases). However, I also use client machines too (like at EA). I keep all my reference material on a small fireware drive. So no matter where I go, or which machine I use, I still have all my files (this also includes my brush settings, painter files, etc).


1. Illustration and industrial design share many common grounds. But usually industrial design focuses more on man-made things (such as architecture, products, vehicles, and environments). Illustration tends to focus more on character and creature design, as well as mood-paintings, and general environment designs (not hard-core, perspective heavy things).

2. If you can draw well, you can expand into many different fields (all that youíve mentioned). So yes, Iíd recommend you to take some drawing classes.

3. You can move around, but it has its limits. Studios usually hire people based on their specialty (ie: 3D modeler, animator, texture artists, etc). But smaller studios tend to let you have more freedom. When I worked at Blur, Iíve seen 3D modelers do their own concepts, and as long as it works in context, the boss didnít complain. This is harder to do, if you are working for a bigger studio (because you can step on other peopleís toes).


Hey man, good to see you here.

1. Yes, architecture definitely helped me. Actually, I never see anything as wasted. You can learn something from everything, even topics not related to what we do. For example, I took a class once on lettering. Man, I learned so much about alignments, first reads, grids, etc from that class - something I wasnít expecting.

2. I think I just answered your question. I donít see anything has being Ďwasted.Ē I also made some great friends there, and had a blast living at the dorms.


Glad I inspired you! Now get back to drawing! Haha


No, Art Center didnít really teach you about drawing mechanical things. Their job is to train you on how to design and draw. I had to learn about machines and their functionality on my own. One of the best ways to teach yourself is by building scale models. Go to your local hobby shop and buy some models. Once you make a model, youíll have a greater understanding of how things work and attach to each other. Try building a replica of a B-17 or a Sherman Tank for starters.


Glad to hear about your teacher using the DVDs are teaching material. =)

I generally find that talented individuals are good at a lot of different things. Itís just their nature to learn everything. Once you start drawing, youíll notice that a lot of other skills are related to it. If you learn one thing, I can be applied to the other field. For example, painting, photography, and directly are closely related. They all have to tell a story, use good composition and lighting. So yes, try to learn many things as possible. Youíll be a lot happier doing many things. For me, focusing on just one thing can get boring (thus why Iím doing a book, working on toys, starting to get into directing, and going into business management).


Thatís a great start. Whatís missing right now is the fundamental stuff. Learn your basics about forms and shapes before going into details. Make sure your drawing is solid first. But keep at it. It just takes time.


1. Sketchgirls is currently in production. I will have three different collectable toys by fall of this year. There will also be prints available (most likely packaged with the toys, so you donít have to purchase them separately). Iíve already moved onto the next stage for Sketchgirls, but thatís under wraps right now. Look for the new SG website soon.

2. I worked with Joe on several projects together, including the now cancelled Exarch. I donít know if I can say more about the other projects right now, as they are all in development right now.

3. I did hundreds of drawings for Ep3. Iíll try to get Lucasfilm to release them, so I can post them up on my website. But this is not going to happen for at least a year after the movie Iím guessing. My favorite piece is not printed in the booksÖ check back in a year? Haha

4. I canít answer this question. Iíll take the 5th on this one.


Sure, Iíd love to come to Malaysia. If someone invites me, Iíd love to come and do a workshop!


well, i'nm guessing this is the end of the Q/A. Thanks again everyone for the great questions. I had fun answering them.


  05 May 2005
Hi all,

OK it's time to close this session. What an excellent Q&A it was! A big thank you to Feng Zhu for taking the time to do this Q&A on CGTalk!



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