Professional and aspiring concept artists alike should know about FZD School of Design. It’s a Singaporean concept art school teaching art fundamentals in a rigorous one-year curriculum. FZD was founded by the incredible artist Feng Zhu and his school is easily one of the best concept art schools in the world.
While researching the school I stumbled onto an alumni named Darius Kalinauskas. He’s a former interior designer turned concept artist and was kind enough to answer some of my questions about studying at FZD.
I’ve organized Darius’ thoughts into this Q&A to help other artists that might be considering FZD as an option for moving into a concept art career.
If you’ve never heard of FZD I urge you to check out their before and after artwork gallery. It really shows how much can happen in 1 year with the right teaching and dedicated practice.
How did you find FZD and what inspired you to apply?
Well back in 1997 or whenever I got Internet at home, I stumbled upon Feng Zhu’s artwork. I was amazed.
A lot of people see art like that and think “I never knew this could be a career”. Maybe being in a country like mine(Lithuania) you never think beyond the borders. So it seemed like an unreachable goal at the time.
But I started following him very closely, as he was the only artist I knew. I always felt like this is what I’d want to do with my life.
Some years passed. I finished my studies at the Vilnius Academy of Arts and found myself dreaming to work abroad. All of the best concept art schools were in the US and they were far too expensive for me.
Then in 2009 FZD School of Design opened. At that time I was in London with literally 30 pounds in my pocket!
But with support from my family I decided FZD was the school for me. So I worked my ass of for 3 years, sold everything I owned and went to FZD to pursue my dream of becoming a concept artist.
Can you explain the application process? What type of portfolio pieces did you submit? Is an interview required for applying to FZD?
After graduating from my art academy I wasn’t doing much art. I was working as an interior designer at the time, so I had no new portfolio pieces connected to this industry.
I sat down and painted one new piece. It took me 3 weeks but I sent it along with works that I had from my previous studies.
But beyond a portfolio I think the most important thing to show is your passion for concept art, since most of the fundamentals are taught there.
As for the Q&A it was very casual. Very pleasant staff and they just asked general questions. After being accepted you have to send them documents for your visa, but besides that nothing too complicated honestly.
What are some bare essentials that anyone applying to FZD should already have?
You need a disposition towards art and creativity. This is a big part of the professional concept art industry.
Financially you have to be ready to pay the tuition obviously. I found no way to get a loan without being Singaporean, so it can be difficult for foreigners to come up with the money.
From a mindset or spiritual sense you have to be very determined and 100% sure this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. A lot of people dropped out because they could not handle the pressure. You have to know that if you want to make it in the industry you will have to work long hours. The lucky ones break in early but hard work beats luck, or rather compliments it.
Your mind has to be strong willed, determined, and good under pressure. That is why, at least for me, I think it’s harder for young kids just out of school.
You really need to know this is what you want and you need to give it as much effort as possible, both physically & mentally.
What was your experience getting settled in Singapore? Did you have any trouble finding housing, food, etc? Is the culture friendly to students from western countries?
Well that is very funny question. I will try to keep it short.
Housing — It took me a month to find a suitable place. I just didn’t want to live with random people instead of students. I knew they would distract me and would not understand what I was doing.
Also I was not lucky enough to connect with many other people from my class before arriving to Singapore. I got in touch with one other person and we were looking for a place for 2. Let me say living ain’t cheap in Singapore!
I went over budget a bit with that. Other students were communicating somehow so they settled into cheaper places with 4-8 of them I think.
Food — I found food to be either expensive(15-20 SGD/portion) and better quality, or cheaper(5 SGD/portion) but just something to keep you alive… tasty but I wouldn’t say healthy.
But it was fast food and good enough for me. Since I’m not a fan of rice the food was very limited for me. But there’s fresh juice(1.5 SGD) and other goodies that you can buy.
I mean, you can find anything there it just depends on your pocket. For example my friend was eating McDonald’s almost all the time. Keep in mind different locations have different quality for chain restaurants.
People — I didn’t like the general population too much. Reason being the first month I had to pay different prices for the same things. For example, same juice same place ranged from 1.5 – 5 SGD. I had to ask them to tell me the price that I would pay all year.
In general there are ~5 million people but each one of them seems in their own world. I was on a packed metro and told the person in front of me that I was getting off at the next station. He goes “me too”. Station comes up and he just stands there. I had no way to pass him, so he got off with me pushing him since saying excuse me didn’t work.
But honestly that’s just me. Other students were fine and maybe didn’t encounter such situations, or they were OK with it. So take it as my opinion and nothing more.
But there is no violence or bullying or bad looks. People are generally kind and polite when talking to you because there are a lot of international schools there.
How would you describe the environment at FZD? Is the campus easy to navigate? Are teachers and administrators available for questions?
Keep in mind the school has changed locations from when I attended. So I’m not sure how it is now.
But in general everything was very clean. We had classrooms, reading/chilling areas. There are vending machines with drinks and coffee too.
Staff was always available for you unless there was a meeting. But even then they’d come out to help if you needed something quick. Teachers could help a lot too, except Feng as he was often busy doing work or teaching a class.
But after class teachers were available and during class you could ask anything.
Can you explain the work requirements for new artists? How many classes are required at one time? What’s the typical workload?
If I remember correctly you have 5 days and 5 classes, so you have 5 homework assignments per week in first term.
Basically if you don’t do your homework the same day you will have time issues. You have to understand this is not a typical school where you have a fixed amount of homework that takes everyone the same amount of time.
The amount of homework depends on how much you want to learn. The more you do the more you learn. So it’s up to you if you want to spend 2 hours or 10 hours.
As for me I was working around 18-22hrs on weekends and 10-12hrs during the week. Classes ran from 9AM-5PM on weekdays. So 4hrs to 30mins of sleep on any given night.
But that was my decision. I went there to learn and squeeze myself as much as possible.
Also keep in mind it depends on your skill level. If you have some fundamentals down it’ll take less time to complete assignments.
But even if you’re already skilled you can always do more to improve.
We had guys with like 4-6 years in the industry and one of them was really pushing himself trying to improve. Another one just did homework, so once again it’s a choice.
You can easily get everything done and get 8hrs of sleep.
Conclusion: workload and homework volume is entirely up to you. The teacher will give you an assignment and you can push yourself beyond your capabilities, or you can improve in micro steps.
That’s a crazy sleep schedule. Was it difficult to live like that?
Before FZD I was a sleeper! I slept like 12-14hrs and it was good.
So after I found out that people were not sleeping much I was in shock.
In any case I somehow adapted and 4hrs became a lot of sleep while in school.
Now I sleep 6-8hrs I guess, sometimes more. So I’m still working 14-17hrs a day when possible.
I was almost always behind in work at the beginning of term one. However the second term is the hardest in terms of homework and time management. The more you’re behind in homework the more stressful and depressing things start to become.
So as I said before, do it the same day or at least 90% of it and finish the rest on weekends.
Lifestyle was easy for me. I told all my family and FB friends I was off for a year. I also talked to my girlfriend who was very supportive of my situation. I honestly thought she would leave me because she was back in Lithuania!
Also side-note, I just remembered a tip one teacher gave us at the beginning of school.
Take a chronometer and every time you are not doing homework put it on. I found out I spent 4-7hrs doing nothing! You can’t argue with numbers.
That experience made things clearer for me. So no Facebook, no friends, no going out, no movies and so on. Suddenly it’s like I had all the time in the world haha!
But it’s not working all year round. We got 6 weeks in total for holiday so during that time we were doing whatever we wanted.
Does lack of sleep become “normal” to most students’ lifestyles?
I can only say this: I think I have pictures of all my fellow classmates while they were sleeping in class. Even me! I did it once, but somehow I managed to stay awake most of the time.
For students in your class that made the most progress, which qualities do you think helped them get the best FZD training?
Determination, not giving up, keeping a clear goal in mind, working hard as fuck and always trying to do better work than the day before.
I think for me the most important thing that I held onto was asking “why am I doing this?”
To be honest I wanted to quit maybe 2 times. I was falling back in the class for two semesters. It was only in the last semester that I started to get better.
And trust me I changed the answer to “why am I doing this?” a couple of times. That is why I say a determined mind with a very clear goal is the key.
Will FZD help students organize a professional portfolio after graduation?
Yes. But once again how you present your portfolio is up to you.
They will definitely guide you and advise you on what should be in your portfolio, and what to leave out. But you need to make the art.
After graduating I got some e-mails from FZD with suggestions for work opportunities. So if you can learn enough and build skills at FZD they will refer you to potential jobs in the concept art industry.
In hindsight do you think FZD was the best possible school to attend for learning professional concept art skills?
For me at that time YES. There were many factors, including that it was the cheapest school from the options I knew about.
I finished FZD after toiling all year and that was the first small step to beginning something I dreamed of doing. I had a tough road ahead of me. I knew that school was just the first step and still had mountains to climb, even still after 4+ years.
You really never stop learning.
Do you think FZD is more beneficial than learning from an online course?
If you’re a lazy-ass person then yes.
Nowadays there are so many online tutorials and other learning resources. It can be incredibly overwhelming. But if you can force yourself to work then results will happen.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to find information about fundamentals. But you can find some stuff if you look.
I now enroll at Learn Squared and their course is very detailed and informative. But if you have no will to do the homework you will never learn.
After going to FZD School of Design I believe I have a stronger will and can do the work easier. But before my FZD training if there were courses like that online I don’t think I would’ve been able to force myself to work 40hrs a week on homework.
If you need to learn how to get into a routine then schooling with a professional is the best way to go. If you can honestly manage your time well and put in the hours for yourself then online courses are a possibility.
Any other thoughts on FZD that you want to share with artists that might apply?
I would like to share why I went to FZD and why I thought that school would be the best choice.
As I mentioned Feng Zhu was the artist who introduced me to the idea of concept art. He taught me that this industry existed and I’ve always been inspired by him.
I went through wonderful sessions of Level Up and a lot of folks from my generation had the same thing. They saw Feng’s works and Gnomon tutorials online as that was the only learning source back in a day.
I respect that Feng shared his knowledge on YouTube for free as well. It was important to people from, er, let’s say “not-so-fancy” countries.
Funny that the second persona I found was, as I like to say, the “father of our industry” Syd Mead. I mean his work still blows me away today.
In any case I had my career as an interior designer and I was already working 9 years at it. So in my mind changing careers was a very risky thing. I knew if I was going to do it I needed to invest as little time as possible to get started.
That’s why I thought traditional concept art schooling would be the best choice.
ArtCenter in Pasadena was not an option financially or time-wise since I didn’t have 4 years of tuition or time for paid study. Other schools offered 2 year programs but faced the same problems.
So FZD was not only the sentimental choice, but also the logical choice from my point of view.
It offered what I needed at a much cheaper price with only a one-year curriculum.
I’m certain FZD was the right choice for me and may be the right choice for others in a similar position. But remember the school is only a starting point — the rest is up to you.
Special thanks to Darius for giving his time for this interview.
I really hope this info can help younger artists decide if FZD is the right place to further their skills and progress towards an entertainment design career.
To learn more about Darius you can visit his personal site. And to learn more about FZD School of Design you can visit their website. I also highly recommend skimming their YouTube channel for some neat promo videos.