The realms of tech and tabletop RPGs increasingly overlap. We’ve new virtual tabletops like Astral, cartography software like Wonderdraft and a host of character sheet management platforms. We’re still enjoying new and original ideas and Miniature You™ is one of them.
With Miniature You™ from Minuteman Miniatures, you can use your smartphone to custom build a wargaming or RPG miniature based on your face.
Geek Native spoke with Michael Elices to ask about the technology.
Can you tell us what Minuteman Miniatures is and does?
Minuteman Miniatures is a tech startup that is focused on the blended implementation of emerging technologies to bring innovative new products to the tabletop gaming market. That’s a fancy way of saying we’re the guys who make minis with your face on it.
Our flagship product is Miniature You™, a personalized miniature of you, designed by you, and printed for you. Using our new smartphone app, you can 3d scan your own face, design a custom model of yourself by choosing from over a hundred themed body options, view your creation standing in front of you using AR (augmented reality), and finally order your miniature 3d printed in plastic, resin, or metal.
Really, we’re focused on four things: 3d scanning, 3d sculpting, 3d viewing, and 3d printing. These four technologies are all used together to create our new smartphone app, Miniature You™.
- 3d scanning allows us to create a high resolution model of your face, which is then used as the base for any Miniature You™. Before our app, scanning needed to be performed using handheld cameras or massive scanning booths in dedicated storefronts. We’ve taken an expensive and difficult process and turned it into a 30-second “selfie scan” using your smartphone’s camera.
- 3d sculpting is used to create the themed bodies for your miniatures, and customize your miniature’s look. Every miniature is sculpted by our team of digital artists, allowing us to quickly create new miniatures based on your request.
- 3d viewing allows for you to view and interact with your model via your phone’s touchscreen, or bring it to life using AR (augmented reality). AR allows you to view your Miniature You™ standing on your desk or alongside your existing miniatures to see what could be possible.
- 3d printing is basically magic. Even after thousands of miniatures printed, we still all crowd around the printers and say “whoaa” whenever our prints are complete. Additive manufacturing is also the only way to create a product like this, as every miniature is individually personalized- no two Miniature You™ minis are ever the same. Individually manufacturing thousands of personalized miniatures is incredibly complicated, and we’ve developed our own order management software and partnered with several US and EU based “3d factories” to give you fast and local production options.
We’re also continuously experimenting with new possibilities for the future, such as full color printed miniatures, custom AR dungeon builders, and custom vehicle designers.
Your website says Minuteman Miniatures 2. What’s the difference between Minuteman Miniatures 1 and your current version?
That’s actually just a mistake left over from when we switched from our first website to our second, but it does bring up an interesting topic. The smartphone app is the second “version” of Miniature You™, based upon the successes and (many) failures of our first trial run in 2018.
The first attempt at Miniature You™ was largely unplanned. Myself and a friend went to a local convention with a silly idea to scan people using a modified Xbox Kinect hooked up my old desktop gaming rig, thinking we would make five or ten miniatures maximum (enough to pay our bar tab that evening) and be done with it. We ended up with more than a hundred miniatures ordered, and overnight we had turned into an actual business. One convention quickly turned into six, and we ultimately ended up as a major sponsor signed on for GenCon. While the product concept was a hit, we were absolutely crushed by the number of orders that came in. The concept was ready, but the infrastructure was not. It didn’t go well. Thousands of orders went out fine and the response was great on those, but dozens were shipped out very late or lost.
We were simultaneously trying to invent a new product, develop a new method to actually create that product, build an advanced additive manufacturing facility capable of printing hundreds of custom miniatures per week, hire and train a team to fulfill those orders, and offer it all at a price that a poor university student could afford, without any sort of true startup capital or any time to test and prepare ourselves. Once we realized that the “version 1” setup wasn’t able to support the volume of orders, we cancelled our upcoming shows and closed our online marketplaces while we worked on figuring out how we could get Miniature You™ minis into our customers hands quickly and reliably.
The first challenge we targeted was order management. Normal order management systems are designed mainly for stores that are picking identical items from a warehouse shelf. Our product is weird and doesn’t work at all in this setup. There’s no such thing as inventory, because every model is made on demand individually. The process is also extremely complicated, going through a long list of steps before completion, with many potential issues coming up throughout the process. If it fails at any point, there needed to be a way for us to internally catch, identify, and respond to the problems so that it could be corrected. It’s also a long process, and without any way of notifying the customer of what was going on, it could be an obnoxious wait. So what did we do? We built our own order management software that allowed us to track the order each step of the way along our creation process, while also automatically updating the customer what exactly was happening. We’ve also integrated this system with our new shipping software, giving automatic updates to tracking and delivery.
The second challenge was time. It took way too long to get the damn miniatures out the door. Originally, the plan was to keep production in-house so that we could keep the cost as low as possible, as our main goal was to allow even a poor university student the ability to make a Miniature You™. The results were mixed. We were able to increase production up to nearly five hundred miniatures per week, but these miniatures had “support sprues” that some customers had difficulty removing. Removing them ourselves required more manpower and time, which delayed delivery. Ultimately, we decided that the best option was to work with larger US and EU partners that are capable of producing tens of thousands of parts per week. This gives us the ability to offer a wider selection of materials and much faster delivery options, backed up by the reliability of their larger operations, while still keeping the price low enough that a university student could buy.
The third challenge was opening up the Miniature You™ process beyond conventions. We had many emails from Europe and Australia from customers asking how they could get a scan without flying to a US convention. One woman emailed us trying to get a scan for her infirm, elderly father in New Zealand, so that she could make a Miniature You™ of him as a gift for her kids. This one email in particular pushed us towards developing a “scan yourself” solution. By giving you the power to 3d scan yourself, we not only eliminate the need for absurdly expensive and slow handheld scanners and long queues at conventions, but put the complete creation of a miniature firmly into your own hands. In just 30 seconds you’re able to scan yourself just as easily as taking a selfie, and begin designing. The design of the miniatures has also become customer driven, as the automation and simplification of the sculpting process allows you to easily create a fantasy version of yourself, without needing any sort of artistic or technical skill.
TLDR; Version 1 was a cool idea, while version 2 is a complete solution.
Miniature You™ the app which lets you design minis from selfies on your smartphone is due out for iOS in July. Is there a release date or even plans for an Android app?
The reason why the app is on iOS only at this moment is entirely due to technological limitations. Apple has the only smartphone camera on the market that can truly capture a high definition model of your face that is actually usable for tabletop gaming. We’ve been experimenting with several Android platforms, but the reality is that 3d scans on those systems just don’t look very good. There are several Android phones set to release this year with 3d-capable cameras, so we’re looking at expanding to android as soon as this becomes technologically possible. For now, iPhones and iPads will be our focus.
We’re aiming to have the full public release of our iOS app in June or early July.
We have got a geeky audience who might appreciate any insights on the complex and often frustrating process of app development. Are there any stories, things you’ve learned, or things you wish you had done differently on your journey? Agile development, native versus progressive web apps?
I’ll start this off by saying I had zero experience or knowledge in creating an application when the project first started. I have a degree in Latin and sold inkjet printers before this- not exactly the ideal background to be leading app development. However, we had a great idea and knew exactly what we wanted in terms of functionality and features. We knew what we wanted to create, but we didn’t have the technical skills to create it ourselves. Ultimately, we ended up working with a partner development company that specialized and augmented reality and medical 3d scanning. I’m a super “do-it-yourself” kind of guy, but sometimes it’s best to leave it to actual professionals to get a job done right.
(Geek Native understands there a pending patent application situation here and so Minuteman Miniatures was limited in how they could (or should) respond. ^AG)
You’ll be at the UK Games Expo this year. Where can gamers find out there and what they can they expect?
Hall 2, stand 614, we’re the last row of exhibitors right next to CMON and Fantasy Flight.
For the Expo, we will be opening up our beta app for 3 days to give UKGE attendees an exclusive preview of our app. Using our demo iPhones, they will be able to create profiles, 3d scan themselves, save those scans, and preview their creations on-screen. We’re also opening up a limited number of orders through one of our partner 3D factories in the Netherlands, allowing attendees to order themselves in High-Detail Resin or Solid Steel.
We will also be giving out show-exclusive prizes and free miniatures as a “thank you” for trying out the application.
If people can’t find you at UKGE or can’t get to that Expo can they catch you later in the year? Do you have a convention schedule?
We’ve been holding off on booking any new conventions until we are finished with development. However, we will be posting updates on our website with a full listing of conventions, so be sure to check out www.MinutemanMiniatures.com.
Once the app launches, we’ll be trying to hit one or two conventions per month, both in the US and internationally. If you can’t make it, the app will be publically available in July, allowing you to create a Miniature You™ without even getting up from your gaming table.