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3D in miniatures

By 3dtotal staff

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Date Added: 5th August 2015

Justin Bintz shares how he has turned his ZBrush skills into a freelance career.

© 3dtotal Games


After graduating with a bachelor's degree in Digital Media and Animation (which he describes as a run of the mill degree for anything related to computer graphics), Justin found himself working in a factory for over a year until he realized he had to make his own luck. Justin began teaching himself ZBrush in his spare time, and then returned to school to work towards an MFA in Game Design, studying with the Academy of Art University.

Since making the decision to quit his job and begin freelancing alongside his studies, Justin has established himself as a master of miniature, making board game minis for a number of projects.

3dtotal: How did you find yourself specializing in creating board game miniatures?

Justin Bintz: I was approached by a small team from Australia who were working incredibly hard to develop a new tabletop skirmish game. They saw something in my style that they believed would translate well to the miniature world. It was my first time making miniatures and I really had no idea what I was doing. I'm glad they were learning as they went too, because they were very accepting of my litany of mistakes.

A ZBrush sculpt Justin made as a low poly game asset for an upcoming game titled Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire
© Steel Crown Productions & Membraine Studios

3dt: You have created a series of games miniatures for a 3dtotal project, aside from having to deal with our madness, what were the biggest challenges you faced?

JB: Oh come on now, what madness? It was a pleasure working with you guys on the project. The wizards were all so unique and well done - I was constantly surprised when you would show me new concept art. The toughest challenge for me was that all of the characters were so incredibly unique that each one had to be created entirely from scratch, I couldn't piece too many things together to lessen the amount; I had to sculpt from scratch.

Bramblethorn/, created this model for 3dtotal's board game Wizards Academy based on concept art by Sean Andrew Murray.
This images has been PolyPainted in ZBrush © 3dtotal Games

3dt: Could you please explain the key considerations you must keep in mind when creating small, print-ready character models?

JB: When working in ZBrush for miniatures you should always remember that the character is going to be standing an inch or two tall. This means that small details are mostly destroyed during the mass production process. You should focus on large, simple shapes and executing them well, to be successful at making miniatures. A quick tip is to zoom out in ZBrush so that your tools are the size they will be when printed. You can use this to determine how much detail you should add.

One of the 14 miniatures Justin created for an upcoming table top game named Twelve Elements of War
© Sword & Board Games LLC

3dt: You are currently studying for a master's degree. What would you say are the key lessons you've learned so far?

JB: I'm attending the Academy of Art University here in San Francisco majoring in Game Design. When I started here I was reminded of the importance of core skills that every artist should have. Things like drawing, sculpting, and especially the skills of observation are of the utmost importance for any artist.

As far as more practical, readily useable knowledge, the importance of having an abundance of reference material for any project has been brought to light. Seasoned artists know this, but myself and other new artists, tend to use preconceived notions about things that often aren't correct.

A demon mini created for Wizards Academy, rendered in ZBrush © 3dtotal Games

3dt: What are the best learning resources you have discovered during your course?

JB: My best resources I find and use are my fellow artists. Everyone sees things from such different perspectives and if you ask for honest critiques on projects you'll more often than not get them. The key is to let your defences down and listen to them as though you didn't just spend 20 hours on something and they want it drastically changed. In the end you'll thank yourself for doing it because you'll have a much better piece to display.

A character Justin is developing for his MFA thesis project © Justin Bintz

3dt: How do you find time for both work and study and how do you find these two practices feed into one another?

JB: I'm finding it increasingly difficult to balance the two, but I know it's beneficial to me as an artist to work on so many different fronts at once. During a semester where a student may make five projects I end up creating 20 or 25. I feel as though it has allowed my skills to develop quickly since starting classes here in San Francisco.

Another character based on concept art by Sean Andrew Murray for Wizards Academy © 3dtotal Games

3dt: What advice would you give to aspiring 3D artists looking to specialize in modeling games minis?

JB: Miniatures are a great place to develop your skills as a new artist - you're forced to work without symmetry often and with characters in complex poses.

I would say to any new artist out there to not be afraid of the work, to tell potential clients you have the drive to see their project though to the end. When a client's project is on the line it raises the stakes for you as an artist, you'll troubleshoot and do things you never thought possible if you invest emotionally in their project.

Attorney Drones - Can't think of much that's more terrifying than a snake attorney! Justin created this model for an upcoming table top game © Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive by Living Worlds Games, LLC

3dt: Do you have any big ambitions or dream projects you'd like to work on during your career?

JB: My ambitions are honestly to get into the game industry in some way shape or form and do my part to build games that inspire the next generation of artists. Since the fifth grade I've dreamt of working at as I called it back then "a game factory”, so being involved in any way would make a young Justin's dream come true.

Eventually I want to become a college professor but I can't see myself doing that until I've seen it all and contributed as much as I can to the industry, so I can give students honest answers about what they need to do to join the ranks of a gaming company.

Justin made this piece for a client about a year ago. It's a character that's been featured in a table top game for 25 years!
© Justin Bintz

3dt: Finally (and of critical importance), if you had to choose just one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

JB: Saving the toughest question for last, eh? If I'm not worrying about my health and I suppose if I'm eating one food for the rest of my life I'm going to have to go with Twizzlers. I've probably already consumed as many as someone should during a life time so why not just go for broke?

A game asset Justin created from his REM Commander Sculpture, it sits at 4.5k quads
© Steel Crown Productions &Membraine Studios

3dt: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in our interview!
Related links
Head over to Justin's website to see more of his work
Follow this link if you want to find out more about Wizard's Academy
Grab yourself a couple of our eBooks in the 3dtotal shop

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