Craig Martin: The Rewards of Loving What You Do

submitted by Samanthi Martinez



  Craig Martin with Hoover Dam model


Craig Martin is the owner of Archetype 3-D in Colorado, and like many members of the APMM, got started building kit models as a kid. Though he graduated from the State University of New York at Purchase with a degree in theater arts and wanted to be a set designer and work on the technical aspects of the theater, he soon found himself building an architectural model made out of illustration board for a New York company.


While in New York, Craig met his wife Diane and moved to Colorado with her. Diane had a background in fine art and together they had the bright idea to build models for a living. Their first job was to rebuild an existing model for a company in Denver.


“We'd never seen anything like it before,” he says, “it was made of acrylic, urethane and other strange materials.” This first project was miraculously put on hold for six months so Craig fast-tracked his skills by working for a couple of Denver model making companies. He learned the processes and techniques he would need to do the work and brought them home to their small basement workspace. While getting his new company off the ground in 1984, he continued working for others to hone his skills. Within a couple of years, Archetype 3-D was up and running.


Along their career, Craig and Diane have built all sorts of models – architectural, aerospace, engineering, legal, display and marketing pieces.


“It might be easier to describe the models we don’t make,” explains Craig. "We have never been interested in models with .001 tolerance. We have never owned or operated a CNC mill. Our interest has always been in adding drama to marketing and sales displays. Diane has a good artistic eye so as our creative director she makes sure each project goes out with accurate colors and a marketing flair. We have made models of ski resorts, parks, highways, product and trade show models, even a model of the Hoover Dam.”


Hoover Dam - We have built many models to show highway and bridge designs. From the Presidio in San Francisco to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. This model of Hoover Dam was built as part of the proposal to win the contract to build the commuter bridge downstream. My client didn’t win the contract and after a few years in storage we got the model back for our own showroom. I can’t tell you how many models we have tossed over the years but I think we will pass this one on to the new owners.


Craig and his company have established a name for themselves by doing highly realistic water simulations and landscaping. They are proud of their work with water features, having done projects for Disney, and lots of parks including ponds, rivers and swimming pools. He says he’s always felt that any model maker should be able to create an accurate structure but it is often the landscaping, water features and amenities that help sell the structure to the public. We work hard to create a naturalistic feel to our sites.




This is the original design for Coronado Springs in Walt Disney world. This model was done early in our career and I learned a lot about creating water effects and well as dealing with difficult clients. Changes were requested but never paid for which inspired a trip to our lawyers to re-write our contracts.  


“Architecturally, one of the most fun and most unusual model we’ve made is of the Red Rocks Amphitheater (near Denver, Colorado),” says Craig. “In legal models, we’ve made a full size model of a pair of tongs that is used to spin a pipe in an oil rig, and in engineering, with a trade show model of a very large autoclave.” They’ve also made a model of the sun which was about 3 feet in diameter and showed a cross section of the sun’s composition.



I love the fact that I can never know what I will be asked to build next. A cross section of the sun for a travelling exhibit or an ancient native American village for Mission San Miguel in California. The sun came in under budget and the village took a LOT longer to build than I thought (but I still insisted on the sculpted trout in the river). 


Red Rocks Amphitheater - Many hours of sculpting and painting were required to capture the unusual rock formations. This model also had several lift out sections to demonstrate alternative designs to the remodeled stage and visitors center.



Craig doesn’t regret leaving the theater industry. “Set design was a lot of work for little reward, and I was not dedicated enough to continue in the industry,” he says. After 33 years in the model making business, he says he’s thoroughly enjoyed the industry and couldn’t imagine doing any other kind of work.


“I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I enjoyed building models,” he says, “but you can’t run a company with only model making skills, so I had to learn to enjoy dealing with clients and let others build the models.” As for finding qualified and talented people to do the day-to-day work, he says that surprisingly it isn’t difficult to find good people. “There are a couple schools in Colorado that teach shop training and model making,” he explains, “so they come to the job with some of the basic skills and we train them from there.”


As with many longtime model makers, Craig says that explaining what he does is a big part of his job.


“Most people don’t understand what it takes to make a model,” he says. “Now that the awareness of 3D printing has permeated the public, many think that all models are built using 3D printing, and things just come off the machine looking like the finished product,” Craig muses. It takes time to explain the best model making techniques and he has to learn enough about the product to recommend the best style of model to enhance sales.


“Once a successful model is on display, ten people can then stand around it and get their own simultaneous perspective of it,” he says. That is just not possible with any kind of graphic or animation. The model is also the biggest draw for an audience in any sales center or trade show booth.



The company (above) will sell Autoclaves that are 40’ long or larger. These can be used to create heat and compression to adhere exotic materials for things like airplane wings. We made this table top version with clear sections and lighting in order to show off the unique features that his company offers at all of their trade shows. The conveyor lifts up and the door opens and closes. The lighting is run by a large rechargeable battery pack stored behind the front label.


This is a demonstrative evidence model done for a personal injury case. This hydraulic device is used on a oil field to spin a pipe at tremendous speed. The case is rather gruesome so I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that the lawyer needed a full sized model, with movable levers and gears, that could be easily brought into the courtroom in order say “how could anyone be so stupid”. I enjoy building courtroom models because I can stay neutral knowing that if I have done my job well, both sides can use the model to try to make their case.

Craig has been a member of the APMM since “probably the second year” (1994) when he came to know about the organization through his marketing manager. He went to a conference very shortly after and found the APMM to be a “great resource for communicating within a narrow field.” Craig feels that the APMM should have more members, but doesn’t quite know why more people don’t join. He says that perhaps that natural paranoia that some model shops maintain that keep them from getting too chummy with the competition may be to blame for that.


“What the APMM taught me, from that first year,” he reflects, “is that I don’t have any original problems or solutions. Although some of my problems seem unique, someone out there has already tried something similar and can give me a new approach.”  Craig knows several model shops that aren’t members and is surprised by that because he feels there is so much to gain from the sharing and collaborating process. “The MILE is one of the most useful things that the APMM offers,” Craig maintains, “and the conferences really broaden your horizons.”


Now, Craig and Diane are looking to retire from the business they so carefully built, and are seeking just the right buyer – someone who shares the love of model building that they share. Though they have had a few bites, and have begun interviewing prospective buyers, they are still interested in hearing from others. If you love model making, and you like the easy proximity to world-class skiing or the arts, natural areas and the progressive culture of Colorado, your future may be calling you. 



There is no magic to creating water features, just careful use of epoxy resin. Stir like a banshee and pour thin layers to allow the bubbles to rise. I use a butane torch passed quickly over the surface to pop any stragglers. I paint the bottom with latex paint to create the color and depth and I add a tint to the resin to represent the sky reflections. I use multiple layers and clear rods to imbed swimmers. For waterfalls and fountains, the same resin is used with several fine threads of cotton as a support structure. I think I read about water features in a railroad landscaping magazine and I have been doing it the same way ever since.


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