Prior to 2014, the options for creating custom character miniatures for your Dungeons & Dragons or other roleplaying group were extremely limited. Sure, there were plenty of monsters to be found, but bringing your dragonborn ranger to life as a unique 28-millimeter scale figure was next to impossible. Then, in December of that year, Hero Forge came online.
Hero Forge was among the first companies to commercialize 3D-printed custom miniatures for tabletop gaming. Using experience gleaned from years spent working in the video game industry, its founders have created a pipeline to turn character concepts into physical art using just a web browser. Now the company is taking its technology even further by adding in a fully-featured face customizer. The final version is expected to go live in August.
Teagan Morrison worked for more than a decade as a digital artist at Naughty Dog before founding Sky Castle Studios, Hero Forge’s parent company. That makes him intimately familiar with the challenges of turning digital art into physical objects. But the complexities of the face customizer initially took him by surprise.
“[When] we Kickstarted the original Hero Forge, it took us a year to make with a handful of folks. [This was] a magnitude more than that, just because we had to develop new techniques and new technology for this,” Morrison told Polygon in a recent interview. “It was more difficult than the original Hero Forge was to make in its entirety”
The new face customizer will work with every head in the Hero Forge inventory, including non-human animal and robot heads. It also integrates with accessories, hair, and even pointy elf ears to avoid clipping issues. Users can control each element of a face using dozens of independent sliders, or just grab individual features and drag them into the positions that they want. There’s even a slider for adjusting the age of a character. Miniatures can then be printed out as physical objects in a number of different materials, captured as still images using the in-browser photo booth, or exported as STL files for use in at-home 3D printers.
Of course, Morrison admits that a custom face is of limited utility when the faces it prints are just a few millimeters tall. While do-it-yourself hobbyists are free to produce the miniatures at larger scales, including as bust-sized sculptures, the real benefit for its users he said will be when using renders of their characters on virtual tabletop platforms. Hero Forge is already integrated with multiple high-end 3D solutions such as Talespire and Foundry VTT, and he said Hero Forge miniatures will be easy to port over once the solution goes live in August.
“We’re expecting a small number of power users to do amazing, amazing work and to share [that work] to all of our users,” Morrison said. “We’re really looking forward to what users come up with.”