Wednesday, May 25, 2011

[Interview] Misterjustin - Secret Weapon Miniatures

For the next in our game industry interviews we talked to Misterjustin of Secret Weapon Miniatures.  From their site, SWM sell a large range of bases in addition to weathering pigments, washes, scenery kits and other conversion parts.  Justin though has made sure SWM is more than just a store and is a real part of the gaming community, including things like various painting classes and involvement in the Storm Wardens/Heroes of Armageddon projects.

MWC: How long have you been into the gaming scene and what got you started?

I actually started with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in the 80s and painted a lot of the old Ral Partha models for my friends. One of them got into 40k in the Rogue Trader days and kept bringing me boxes of plastic Orks to paint. Since I enjoyed Risk and Axis & Allies (the board game version, of course) he brought me out to see 40k. I stuck with it until the launch of 2nd edition and then took a 14 year break from gaming altogether. I got back into it about six years ago because my middle brother discovered 40k and I dug out some old models (I had kept everything, including my old Partha Paints) and the rest, as they say, is history.

MWC: Do you play tabletop games? And if so, how often and what are your favorite games and armies?

I don't play often, and certainly not as often as I'd like, but I do play Warhammer 40k and Monsterpocalypse. I'd like to play more games but haven't had an opportunity to try out other systems until recently. As more folks are playing games other than WFB and 40k I'm finding it easier to try before I buy.

MWC: If you could meet anyone at all in the gaming industry, who would it be and why?

Oh, wow... anyone? Flippantly I'd have to say Gary Gygax because to actually meet him he'd have to come back from the dead and meeting the zombie Gygax would be a pretty amazing story to share around the pub.
Joking aside I'd say Mike McVey. His was the first book on painting I'd ever read and I learned a lot from it and because he is also responsible for some really amazing new models via Studio McVey.

MWC: Do you have any favorite board games?

I'm going to limit myself to four games here because I absolutely love board games. I just took a look at the pile of games I keep in the living room and chose four at random: Abalone, Dominion, Apples to Apples and Kill Doctor Lucky. There are easily 30 board and card games in the house though.

MWC: When you do any type of gaming, how competitive are you?

That really depends on the game and the opponent. If we're playing backgammon and you know what you're doing I won't have any qualms about making you cry but if you're learning how to play I'm happy to spend a couple of hours helping you work through strategy. With wargaming though I'm a hobbyist first so it's always about fun and being social. I won't complain if I win but I'm not going to create an army with the sole purpose of crushing my opponents.

MWC: Do you read any hobby related fiction such as Black Library books?

Absolutely. I've read a number of the Black Library books. I also have a growing library of hobby non-fiction books and DVDs.

MWC: What do you consider yourself primarily? Painter, modeler, gamer, general purpose dork?

I'd have to say painter and modeler. These days I'd even go further and say I'm becoming more of an AFV (Armored Fighting Vehicle) hobbyist. I've learned a great deal in the past couple of years about how to blend paint and create some really impressive infantry models... and I just can't get excited about it. But I am happy to spend hours putting rivers and weld seams onto a Chimera. I'm probably going to spend two days putting together the individual track links for a German tank I'm starting soon.

MWC: Was there a special inspiration that got you into modeling/painting in the first place?

I can't say as there is - not as I was getting started. There have certainly been a great many people that have inspired me as I've come back to the hobby though. Mike McVey, Victor Hardy, Mathieu Fontaine, Kieth Robertson, Bryan Wryde and others I will probably regret forgetting in the wargaming world -- and dozens more besides in the AFV community that have shown me what can be done with tanks and transports and made me want to try and achieve their realism.

MWC: What is your favorite project you've done?

Ooh, this is a tough one as every time I finish one favorite I've started in on another. My favorite vehicle to date is a Chimera I'm putting the finishing touches on. My favorite infantry model is the Ogre I painted as part of the Masterclass I workshop with Mathieu Fontaine. My favorite sculpts are the Blasted Wetlands bases I did for Secret Weapon.

MWC: Is there a specific type of modeling work you like above others? For example, do you prefer vehicle conversions over infantry based ones?

Right now I really enjoy super detailing vehicles. Adding rivets, weld seams, steel texturing, braided wire tow cables and such can keep me happily occupied for days. And of course I have a real passion for
weathering vehicles.

MWC: Do you like to say, watch TV or listen to music while you model?

But of course! I watched my way through "Metalocalypse" while I painted. Most of the time I'm just listening to music though.

MWC: Where do you get your inspiration from?

The internet? No seriously, the internet is a great resource. With sites like Cool Mini Or Not and countless specialty forums you can find inspiration for any project you're working on. For my detailing and weathering work I take a lot of inspiration from the real world though. Military and tractor museums are great sources for real world vehicle weathering inspiration.

MWC: What do you find most compelling about starting work on a new miniature or piece?

Being able to do that thing on this model that I wish I'd done on that other model.

MWC: What are your greatest challenges when working with something new?

Beyond finding time to play with models? Oh my... narrowing it down to one project. Maybe two. It's too easy for me to have 20 models floating around on my desk at any one time and then I just get overwhelmed and bounce between projects without finishing any of them.

MWC: Do you have a favorite piece, or piece that you consider your "seminal work"?

I don't think I've finished anything yet that I could call a seminal work. I'm working on a super detailed Leman Russ Exterminator with lots of custom brass etch work that I hope will reach that level when it's finished. Nothing yet though.

MWC: Who is someone in the modeling field whose work you admire?

We're back to a broad field here again - but I'd have to say that I have enormous respect for anyone that can do this work all day every day.

MWC: What is your favorite tip, trick or lesson to share with others?

You can get a starter double action airbrush kit, complete with compressor, from Harbor Freight for less than $100. It's not a great airbrush by any means but it's a double action brush and a good piece to learn the  basics. I still use the compressor I got with mine when I travel. If you're painting vehicles or large numbers of infantry models you should own one of these.

MWC: You've won several awards for your painting expertise, but are there any pieces that you look back on and wish you would have done differently?

You have clearly confused me with someone else. No awards for me as I haven't really entered any painting competitions outside of friendly ones on a couple of forums. But I always look at my finished pieces and wish I'd done something differently. You always learn something new as you're working on a model that you often don't get to apply until the next project.
[Marcus: sorry, my fault, also got an interview coming from someone with 5 golden daemons.  :) ]

MWC: What advice would you give to beginners starting out, or those who don't enjoy painting, to get them more involved or motivated in the activity?

Those who don't enjoy painting should try painting different models in different ways before they give it up. Because I don't have a lot of love for spending hours on a single infantry model, but wanted the results that require that level of effort, I was getting very frustrated. Now I own a couple of very nice airbrushes and spend a lot of time painting and weathering vehicles and I love it. Of course if you really don't enjoy painting then don't do it. There are great commission painters out there and games that don't require painting.

MWC: What in your opinion is the most difficult painting technique to learn? (And can you teach it to us, preferably in 30 words or less.)


MWC: How long has your business been around and how much have you seen it grow?

Secret Weapon Miniatures launched in September 2009 and was incorporated in October 2009. I went full time after being laid off in January 2010. Perfect timing, really. At that time I had 11 products and had shipped just 50 orders. As of 23-May 2011 I have 249 active products, nearly 50 more in active development and ship more than 200 orders every month with the help of two part-time employees.

MWC: What is one of the products you were most excited to release?

The "Bone Fields" and "Blasted Wetlands" bases - without a doubt. Although other companies are selling hollow blanks these were the first THEMED hollow releases designed to work with model water products. Of course I also have a 6x6 sci-fi AFV in production and an artillery walker in the concept planning phase that I'm pretty excited about....

MWC: What do you think makes your products special or unique?

When it comes to basing I pay a lot more attention to scale and realism than I think most of my competitors do. In fact I have often said that if the companies that have the quality had better scale I never would have done bases. That's no joke. Of course Secret Weapon does a lot more than just pressure cast resin bases. I also offer brass etch, weathering pigments and other goodies besides -- but I think what really makes us stand out is the level of involvement and interaction I strive to have with my community. I get emails every day from folks expressing their surprise that I replied to a question quickly, or sponsored an event, or chat them up on Facebook. This shouldn't surprise folks but I think most companies, large and small, aren't paying as much attention to the smile and handshake, so to speak, that they should.

MWC: Is there anything new you have coming that you could give us some hints about?

Like the artillery walker I mentioned earlier? Okay, since you've already got that I'll let you know that the first multi-part metal miniature is now finished and will be released this summer.

MWC: When you achieve world domination, what will your headquarters look like?

I don't know what it would look like - but I know I'd spend a lot of time and money making it a place that hobbyist and gamers wanted to visit and spend time to share ideas and techniques or play a game. If we get to the size I can pull that off you can fully expect me to host an annual open house and bring in some outside hobbyists to teach classes and such.


  1. Great interview, I'm glad his business is doing well and having just bought a bunch of weathering pigments and some soft metal accessories from him/SWM I'm glad to say that the service was fantastic as is the product, design/packaging and postage.

    Very professional, thanks Mister Justin!


  2. Jack - thanks for the kind words!

  3. Good stuff - I'm really enjoying these industry interviews. I'm a big fan of the Secret Weapon upgrades, it's cool to get the inside scoop!

  4. And I'm happy to answer more questions in the comments if anyone has 'em. Things like this are why I love my job :)