Sheffield model maker lands dream job – sending his incredible sets into space

As a child, David Riley amazed friends with sets he made for his superhero action figures.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 12:19 pm

He created a Batcave, with a computer which allowed him to insert pictures onto the screen through slots he made. The New York he created for Spiderman had a section of wall that figures could punch out, which he could replace later.

Now, he has his dream job – after setting up his own city studio on Arundel Street, Sheffield creating models used in everything from Wallace and Gromit-style television animations to museum exhibitions, with some of his work even sent into space!

David studied design for film and television after leaving Westfield School – but after graduating in 2008, worked as an estimator for a timber frame company.

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David Riley, who makes model villages for museums and television productions. Picture: Chris Etchells
David Riley, who makes model villages for museums and television productions. Picture: Chris Etchells

That wasn’t for him – and he left to teach and perform guitar, playing venues including Peak Cavern in Castleton.

But he had always wanted to get back to creative work.

Then, in 2016 he got a break – given a freelance job in Stockport making a Christmas ad for supermarket chain Sainsbury's. It was a stop-motion film needing miniature furniture on sets. David created pieces for the tiny set.

They were pleased with his work and called him back to make a model kitchen and bookshelves for the set of a BBC Christmas ident, again animated, shown between programmes on the broadcaster’s channels.

David Riley, who makes model villages for museums and television productions. Picture: Chris Etchells

But he struggled to find anywhere in Sheffield doing similar work – so he set up his own company to do it himself.

Since then, he has been kept busy with a variety of projects, ranging from more animation models to models for architects.

David said: “That was my break in the industry. Since then, I think most of my work has been for architects. If you want to work in stop-motion animation, you tend to have to go to London, Bristol or Greater Manchester, although there are places in Sheffield that do digital animation. Although a few of us have set up a group to try to promote what we do locally.

"But I live here, my family is here, I’m proud to be from Sheffield and I don’t want to follow the crowd – so I set something up here.

David Riley, who makes model villages for museums and television productions. Picture: Chris Etchells

"My first project was for an architect. It was a model of Liverpool South Parkway. But I’ve progressed onto more prestigious projects, including a model of Park Hill for Urban Splash, that was 2.3m long, showing what it will look like when the project is complete.

"Recently, I did a model of Cuthbert the Caterpillar. That was for a project for Aldi that involved sending it up 40,000ft to the edge of space. I supplied the model that was carried up on a balloon, and parachuted back to earth.”

He has done work for museums. The Cambridge Museum of Technology commissioned him to make a 1:12 scale model of an old fashioned television camera, and he hopes to do more for museums in the future.

Now, he is taking part in his first art project, with an exhibit at the Fronteer Gallery, at a food themed exhibition called Fresh, which runs in August

David Riley, who makes model villages for museums and television productions. Picture: Chris Etchells

"I’ve made a tiny sculpture of a full English breakfast. It’s 40mm wide. You can’t tell it’s a sculpture until you get close to it.”