Insider's Guide - Cestar Collège - Syn Studio

Insider's Guide - Cestar Collège - Syn Studio

Explore Syn Studio, a renowned concept art institution in downtown Montreal, offering tailored programs and expert instructors in a pulsating creative atmosphere, ideal for budding artists like Jiawei Esther Liu to carve their unique path in art and design.

Discover Syn Studio - a renowned concept art institution in downtown Montreal, where aspiring designers thrive in a vibrant community. With tailored programs, expert instructors, and a pulsating creative atmosphere, it's the perfect place for budding artists like Jiawei Esther Liu, to carve their unique path in the world of art and design.

The Rookies - Cestar Collège - Syn Studio
Cestar Collège - Syn Studio Concept Art School, Montreal, specializes in teaching concept art and illustration for the entertainment industry. For over 10 years, Cestar Collège - Syn Studio has been helping aspiring artists of all skill levels achieve their artistic dreams through their affordable o…

The Specifics

What’s the name of your school?

My school name is Syn Studio.

What’s the name of the neighbourhood?

It’s located in Ville Marie, the centre of downtown Montreal.

Closest train station or public transport option?

It’s very close to Mcgill Station on the green line and Square Victoria-OACI Station on the orange line taking the subway.

How long have you been there?

I’ve been studying there for 18 months.

Why did you choose to study here?

I chose to study here for several reasons. First, Syn Studio has well-tailored program just for concept art and the courses we are taking are very specialised; the class size is also small so each of us can get personalised guidance.

Second, the school has experienced and accomplished industry professionals as our instructors; they have worked in those big name AAA studios for a long time, and they bring so much knowledge and expertise to the classroom.

In addition to the program and teachers, I need to mention the location of Syn Studio – it is located in the centre of Montreal, which is one of the world's top five video game production cities, and you can find art, inspiration, and creativity anywhere here.

The Scene

The first thing you see when you walk outside your school?

When I walk outside my school I can see the busiest and most energetic place in downtown: There are shopping malls and high rise office buildings, big old churches, water fountains with bronze statues, and sometimes musicians performing live music on sides of the street.

Tell us a bit about the Neighbourhood. What is there to see and do?

So around one block from Syn Studio there is Place des Arts, which is a major performing arts centre in Montreal, and there you can find comedy shows, musicals, classic concerts, and the famous jazz music festival.

The school is also very close to big shopping malls like Eaton Centre, the Bay, and Holt Renfrew when you are feeling fancy. I need to say people in Montreal have very good taste in clothing, after all it’s the center of art in Canada.

There are also a ton of churches and historical buildings in the neighbourhood, and people are always in the mood of having a random plein air session around those magnificent architectures. The most famous ones are the Notre-Dame Basilica and Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, can always go in to find peace of mind or inspiration.

A mandatory stop for anyone new to your city:

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral if you are interested in highly ornate Renaissance architecture with Tiffany blue statues; or Boulevard St-Laurent if you like to go thrift shopping, grab tasty snacks,  and have fun wandering in graffiti alleys.

Your school is great, but you wouldn't mind a bit less:

I wouldn’t mind a bit less snow in winter! Weather here can be very extreme from December to April, and we can sometimes end up wobbling in slush to go to school in a -20℃ blizzard.

The unofficial uniform of your school is:

☆Tendonitis and we wear it like a champ☆

What clubs or extra-curricular events are offered at your school?

The school offers us free live drawing sessions for anatomy; and we used to have studio tours for game companies in Montreal, but unfortunately covid happens and we are not allowed to do so, hope the school can bring that back soon.

How would you describe the school community?

I would describe the school community as the nicest human beings I’ve ever met on planet Earth. Classmates, school staff, instructors—everyone here is friendly, supportive, caring, and helpful. They accept and respect who you are, where you're from, and what you want to do. They will be there for you when you face ups and downs in studies or in life. They give constructive advice for your problems, whether professional or personal, while respecting your boundaries. Besides all the sentimental factors mentioned above, people here create the coolest art and are making or will make games and movies that will change lives. I made many life-time friends here, and I’m very grateful for all the love and support I received from this community.

A common myth about your school is:

Tendonitis! We don’t believe it at first but it seems like the myth is getting all of us.

A massive night out for students at your school is likely to be:

As artists we don’t usually go out at night (instead we grind on our homeworks), but we do have picnic parties in parks close to school every one or two weeks. We invite teachers and friends, grab drinks, absorb the precious sunlight and hangout.

The Superlatives

You won’t find a better place to eat than at:

The food court in Complex Desjardin is pretty good and it’s really close to our school, and besides that there is also a Tim Hortons and Thai Express steps away from our building.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:

I’ve witnessed and participated many times –  the mayonnaise worshiping rituals –  at Syn Studio. It's strange and unspeakable on a spiritual level but it’s kind of our thing. In our class we believe the sacred bottle of mayonnaise will bless us with inspiration for good concept art.

How do you know what your professors want? How do you break down tasks?

My teachers are pretty straightforward about what they want, and they will give constructive critics to every one of us in class, and they make sure we understand why and how to get better results. I personally break down tasks by having a small time table on my phone and let it remind me on what time I should work on what specific thing.

What was the latest design or tech challenge you have faced?

I was facing some challenges when trying to integrate 3D into my workflow; before Syn Studio I have an anime rendering style which relies more on lines and flat colors, on the contrary the 3D renderings I get from Blender and Maya are more realistic and focusing on volumes, so I was having a hard time combining those two together to make my work look presentable.

What is your greatest takeaway from your studies so far?

My greatest takeaway from my studies is to stay crazy and push further. I like the wild, the whimsical, the unlimited possibilities, and they let me create artworks that speak volumes about my individuality as an artist. My teachers here at Syn Studio always encourage me to break outside the realm of convention, and as a former accounting student, I can’t find a thing cooler or more rebellious than this.

What advice do you have for students thinking of studying for your degree?

  1. Having strong fundamentals is very important! It is easier to visualize and present designs when you have strong fundamentals and a steady workflow.
  2. Develop your own recognizable art style, show your strengths, what you like, and who you are as a person through your artworks :)
  3. See more cool arts, always practice, always try to improve, and don’t let AI discourage you from chasing your dream and passion.

How do you combine school work with your own creative work?

Usually I just mix them together to have fun, which most of the times my instructors will allow, and when I can’t have a complete “combination”, I will just add several elements that I adore to spice up the homework a little… afterall  I do best when I can feel the adrenaline rush.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement this in your own work?

I draw inspiration from subcultures, music, movies, and fashion. My main design ideas often stem from music and movies; for example, while watching Hellboy 2, I conceived the concept of creating "a queen of hell that transforms into a big spider." To bring my ideas to life, I incorporate elements, design languages, and silhouettes from subcultural aesthetics and fashion runways. For instance, in completing the Hell Queen design, I blend a design language from the goth subculture – "lady without a face wearing a long dress" – with the silhouette design seen in John Galliano's Dior runways in the 1990s and 2000s – "hourglass-shaped red dress with drapes and opera coats."

One thing you’d never change about your school is:

I’d never change the creative atmosphere here at my school because it celebrates the diverse perspectives that each artist brings to the table, unconventional ideas are not only accepted but also embraced with open arms. Studying at Syn Studio, I can really be free and confident with my imaginations and creations without having to fear that I might be judged or misunderstood.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is:

The school is in a relatively old building now but we are getting a new building very soon, so I can’t wait for that to happen.

Someone gives you $1M to pimp out your school. You use it to:

I will go for marketing campaigns, probably rent time square billboards to showcase all the cool works that the students and teachers here have created. And after we get enough publicities we can finish furnishing our new buildings…

Jiawei Esther Liu is a recent graduate of the concept art program at Syn Studio. Esther was an accounting student at University of Toronto with no love for numbers, so after covid hit she decided to follow her heart and do art. Esther loves designing characters with “very extra” outfits and creating monsters that gross people out. In her spare time she likes watching horror movies and fashion runway shows with 80s rock music playing in my room.

You can reach out to Esther via her Rookies profile here.