Playing with paper: behind the scenes with big kid (and paper engineer) Geoff Rayner

09 September 2020

I’m Geoff Rayner, the paper engineer behind Zap! Extra:Make Your Own Marble Run.A paper engineer makes me sound super sciencey – but it’s just a fancy name for someone who plays with bits of paper and cardboard all day long. It’s an ideal job for someone who’s never grown up and enjoys working with children’s products for a living.   


I fell into paper engineering by accident, while studying for a degree in image making and design. I discovered I wasn’t that good at illustration, so had to find something a bit more unusual to work with and settled on designing with paper! 


My first job was coming up with new ideas for pop-up books and novelty kits at a children’s book publisher – a dream start. I worked on lots of different ideas from paper fairies to a mechanism showing how the universe formed! I found the search for ever-more innovative products to be so fun and stimulating. A favourite from the early days was a make-your-own Aztec temple which coincided with me going on holiday to Mexico to visit the real thing! After a few years working at various companies I decided to take the plunge and go freelance so I could spend more time at home with my wife and young children. 


I decided early on to try and make my models by slotting pieces together without the need for glue. I have taken inspiration for my models from watching the toys my own children played with – and the marble run was always a big favourite of theirs. They loved the way the marble had different tracks to go down each time, so I made sure to include this in the Make Your Own Marble Run kitThe hardest part was the gate mechanism where the track splits into two parts – it took about 10 or 12 goes to get that right! 


When I’m designing something new, first I need to think about all the different mechanisms I want to incorporate, and then draw them on the computer. In the old days, I would draw the lines, print them out on paper, stick the paper onto some card and cut out the card with a scalpel! However, I now have a little machine attached to my computer that does all the cutting for me – I found this particularly helpful when I broke my wrist roller skating a few years ago!



Whatever you can think of, I’ve made it out of paper, from the Starship Enterprise to a larger-than-life scorpion, to a spinning merry-go-round. My children are all grown up now and have grown out of playing with toys, but their Dad hasn’t! I’ve been so lucky with my unusual career and I still love watching a new idea come to life.


If the idea of making a model sounds fun, why don’t you try out the Make Your Own Marble Runkit? Check out the video below for a sneak peek of the run in action!



If you enjoy this, there are plenty more models to build and maybe it will inspire you to start making your own 3D sculptures! You can see more of my work here. Happy building!