Interview with FZD School of Design, Founder, Feng Zhu

By AMRITA VALECHA | 25 March, 2010 - 15:43

FZD School of Design, Founder, Feng Zhu

What is the philosophy of teaching at FZD School of Design?
Education based on real-world experience is the core strength at FZD. Our goal is to provide students with as much industry knowledge as possible. The courses at FZD are not based on textbook ideas. We structure every class to match the work-flow of real-world professional studios. FZD students are treated like Jr. Designers and are assigned tasks mirroring those of the Entertainment Industry. By applying this philosophy, our students quickly advance and mature into proficient designers.

What is your motivation for establishing FZD School of Design?
Prior to starting FZD School, I actually wanted to start another design studio in Asia. However, the lack of talent in the design sector here really surprised me. There are a lot of "highly skilled" artists in Asia, but they lack a strong understanding of the fundamentals. Without these foundation skills, it's very hard to become a lead designer. Most of the skills taught at local schools are for "pipeline" work - such as key-framing animation, 3d modeling/texturing, lighting, etc. However, designers are always part of the spearhead of any project. They define what the pipeline is going to be. This type of education is very rare, not only in Asia, but all over the world. I set up this school specifically to train elite designers. Our vision is to mold our students into top industry professionals.

What makes FZD School of Design different from any other design school?
Our biggest focus is in design and fundamental skill development. The core difference that sets us apart is the fact that we are not an art school. Our approach is completely different from art and anything related to art. We prepare our students to become designers and not artists. Since design is part of the production process, we cover all the areas necessary for a student to become a professional. And on-top of this, our instructors, myself included, are all experienced designers from the entertainment industry. The type of education we offer is not seen anywhere else in Asia. Anyone who has attended my past workshops or speeches will know about my teaching process. Our goal is to drill in the most important fundamental skills into the students, so they can basically graduate and enter into any design field. I believe many art schools only develop a student's hand-eye coordination, but not their understanding of what they are drawing or painting; or even how things work in our world. The result might be a beautiful art piece, but as a design, it's very lacking. I always like to say "you can always strip the paint off of a Ferrari, but it will still be a race-car underneath the hood, but you can't paint a crappy car in Ferrari Red and expect it to win any races." Our school is about developing what's underneath, and not just outside substance.

I've been in Asia for many years now, and thus far, I haven't seen too many designers who have a vast understanding of fundamental skills and design abilities. I'm hoping to change that with our school.

What are the fundamental skills that you encourage your students to inculcate?
This comes in two parts:

1 - The basic fundamentals all artists and designers should have no matter what industry you are in. This includes perspective, lighting, composition, color theory, etc.

2 - An understanding of the world. You can't design something new until you first understand what already exists. Study everything around you. How does an insect fly? How does a car engine work? How were the pyramids built? Find out as much as you can and build up your mental library.

I guess lastly, don't have an ego. Be friendly and confident, but never act like an asshole or center the world around you. The world is big and there's always someone better than you. Accept that fact and be humble.

Do you have entrance tests? Do your students need to make a short film / show reel to be able to graduate from your school?
We do not have entrance exams, but applicants who are applying to FZD School of Design will need to submit their portfolio and undergo an interview. This process allows us to know more about the applicant's passion for this field. What important for us is not about how good your drawing is, but the potential and creativity involved in designing. To us, we believe if you already have a stellar portfolio, you don't need to attend a school.

In few months prior to their graduation, the students will be preparing their portfolio to be presented during the graduation showcase. They will have the chance to present their works in front of studios from Singapore and international in order to land their dream job.

Any news or developments that have recently taken place at FZD School of Design?
Recently we work together with some studios locally and internationally to incorporate some of their projects into our curriculum. So, our students get to work on real-life cool projects. We hope that the students can get the exposure they need and at the same time, the studios will be able to find the aspiring designers that they have been searching for.

Apart from this, we have collaborated with Wacom to provide first three hours of any FZD professional certificate courses for free for people who purchased the selected Wacom tablet boxes sold in Singapore. This promotion will only last for a limited time and only for those boxes with special promotion stickers attached.

On a broader level, what is your role at FZD School of Design?
I've been teaching industrial design for many years simply because I love it! I get the biggest satisfaction when I see young students mature and gain professional experience. It's even more rewarding to see them move ahead in their careers and influence the way games and films are designed.

I wear many hats at FZD. First and foremost, I'm one of the instructors. I teach 4 classes a week, ranging from basic fundamentals to advanced design. When I'm not teaching (in the afternoons), I'm working with my team to come up with new marketing ideas, running business plans and growing the school. I also do some design work on the side for a new company I've formed in Singapore. In addition, if my past clients come back for design work, I usually take them on.

What are the courses you offer at your school?
We offer 1 year full-time diploma program in Entertainment Design which is specifically designed for individuals looking for a career in the entertainment industry. This course covers a broad range of topics from basic fundamental understanding to advanced design and rendering techniques. The students will study in a studio environment whereby we train them to have the right skills and attitude to be industrial ready. Aside from that, we also offer Professional Certificate Courses which are specialized in Dynamic Sketching, Concept Design, and Digital Painting. You may want to refer to our official website at for more information.

Whatis the most important part of designing according to you?
Since I work in the field of production, the most important part of design is the market-ability of the product. It's useless to design something if it can't be produced. I never do "random" designs simply to do something "different." I always think about how this design will be received by the audience. For example, can it work? Can it be made into a toy later? Will a 10 yr old understand it? Etc. A designer's job is to solve problems.

Could you share with us about your industry background?
Sure thing! I've been working as a concept artist and art director in the entertainment industry for the past 12 years. Most of my work revolves around videos games and feature films. I've also been involved heavily in education; from teaching at Art Center to Gnomon and finally starting my own design school in Singapore.

How I got started in this industry is directly linked to Art Center. I wore an Art Center T-Shirt to GDC (Game Developer's Conference) and was spotted by a producer from EA. He asked me "do you go to this school?" I answered "yes." And he gave me his card and told me to send him a portfolio. Well, a few weeks later I was sitting in an office at EA with a lake view and a beautiful blonde 3D artist office-mate! (whom later became a good friend of mine at went on to ILM) From EA, I moved around to different gaming studios and eventually ended up in Hollywood.

Lastly, what has been the biggest influence on your work?
The best designer is nature itself. Everything we design can be found in nature. From transportation systems (blood vessels), to the creatures in Aliens (bones and tissue), we are always reminded of nature. I especially love biology and organic systems; for example, the way the heart pumps blood or how a rabbit's feet don't freeze in snow. Thus, whenever I need inspiration, I just look at the world around us. Everything cool has already been designed; we just need to re-organize it a bit to create something new.