It’s a small world: meet Pittsburgh’s Diorama Guy

Anthony "Nino" Balistrieri's love of little things that make big impressions started in a model-making class.

by Kristy Locklin
January 12, 2022

Anthony “Nino” Balistrieri enjoys the little things. 

He creates tiny pop culture dioramas and sells them on Etsy and at events such as Steel City Con. There you’ll find everyone from Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger to Mickey Mouse and Snow White, encased in two-inch, plastic cubes. 

Balistrieri studied industrial design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where an architectural model-making class made a big impression on him. 

Small statues, big impressions

Before closing in 2019, the school used his micro-version of the Monongahela Incline on its website and brochures. 

This passion for petite scenes landed him a job as an exhibit designer at the Carnegie Science Center. The North Shore facility is home to the Miniature Railroad & Village, a sprawling display that illustrates what life was like in Western Pennsylvania from the 1880s to the late-1930s. 

“I got to help with the model railroad and was in my glory,” he said. 

He doesn’t sweat the small stuff, he revels in it. 

Last year, the lifelong Pittsburgher got to create a teeny incarnation of Gus & YiaYia’s Ice Ball cart, a Steel City institution since 1934. Visit the Center and see if you can spot the iconic orange wagon, which is loaded with teeny ice cubes, popcorn and bottles of flavored syrup. 

There’s even a wee Gus Kalaris serving his famous frozen treats.

Pint-size haunts

Although Balistrieri’s job now entails maintaining and repairing the Center’s life-sized interactive exhibits, he continues to dabble in little details at his home workshop. 

The garage is filled with a spooky scene that includes the Amityville Horror house, the Bates Motel, the Evil Dead cabin and a cemetery.

A veteran of the haunt industry – he’s designed scream-inducing sets for Scarehouse – Balistrieri raised money for this enormous project by selling itty-bitty graves during various Horror Realm Conventions.

Folks who pitched in got a plot and tombstone with their name on it. A few celebrities, including Kane Hodder (who played Jason Voorhees in several “Friday the 13th” movies) and Doug Bradley (Pinhead from the “Hellraiser” series) went big and bought minute mausoleums.

Balistrieri takes customer commissions, too. He’s built an insect-sized gas station and a diorama filled with teeny-weeny nudes attending a family reunion.

“With a 3D printer, you can create anything,” he said with a laugh.

Balistrieri’s favorite part of the process is creating different terrains, from gravel roads and placid lakes to rolling hills and snow-capped mountains. 

The world is literally at his fingertips.

I'm a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and full-time horror nerd. I am fluent in movie quotes, sarcasm and English (almost). When I'm not taking long, contemplative walks through old cemeteries, I enjoy writing about (and consuming!) good food and drink. Since I'm basically every Winona Ryder character rolled into one person, I like interviewing other strange and unusual souls.

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