I’ve probably said it before but I’ll say it again: I’m a late adopter. Whether it is technology, fashion, or pop culture, I’m generally behind the curve.
That is my excuse for reading the Harry Potter series last year – only 16 years after the first book was published. (My other excuse is that I just don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m all over non-fiction though.)
But regardless of my late start, I’m now nearly caught up. I’ve read all 7 books, I’ve seen 6 out of the 8 movies, and now I’ve had the full Harry Potter experience since we visited the Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brother studios in Leavensden, UK. (We had visited Leadenhall Market – where some of the Diagon Alley scenes were filmed – and Platform 9 3/4 on our earlier trip to London.)
For the full details on how to get to the studio, check out this article on Trip Advisor. In short: We took the tube to Euston station, and then proceeded by rail to Watford Junction. There we got on the Harry Potter studio shuttle bus and after a short ride (including a video enroute!) we arrived at the Warner Brother Studios. The exterior of the buildings are rather non-descript, except for some big posters and giant chess pieces.
Once inside we waited for our appointed time (we’d booked the tickets online) and then watched a short video. Then we went into another room and watched another short video. (Are we at a movie studio or something!?!) Then the velvet curtains parted, revealing the grand entrance door to Hogwarts and we proceeded inside.
Our tour took us first to the Great Hall. Two rows of tables were missing but aside from that it looked just like the movies.
Above the fireplace was the Hogwarts crest, along with the crests of each of the four houses: Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.
Mannequins (of course) were costumed with the attire from the movies.
At the front of the great hall was the faculty table and the current scores for the House Cup.
Of course Hagrid is huge. We learned that the actor that played Hagrid is not as big as depicted on screen. A 6′ 10″ body double was used, and an animatronic head.
Head of school, Albus Dumbledore, is addressing the students from his podium.
After the Great Hall the tour was self-guided. There was so much to see it was difficult to stay focused. Here is the hair and makeup artist’s domain.
The entrance to Hogwarts.
It was cool to see how special effects and optical illusions were used in creating the sets. For example, this hallway looks quite long but because of the perspective changes it is only about 10 feet.
As luck would have it, it was Animal Actors week while we were there. We got to see the animal trainers who told us about what it takes to get an animal to act as scripted. However, because the movies were first filmed more than 10 years ago, in some cases these were not the same animals that were in the films – at least not in all 8 films.
Mrs. Norris was not really behaving on cue while her trainer was talking. Not that I was surprised – who can train a cat!?
Fluffy, Hagrid’s dog, was visiting, along with one of her pups.
[Excuse the poor photo - I'll explain in a bit.] Here is Thomas’s favorite pet owl, Hedwig.
The sets were incredible! The amount of detail in each one was truly amazing.
My inner chemistry geek was enthralled by the potions classroom.
Professor Slughorn was stylin’ as the Potions professor in movie #6.
One of the biggest challenges was filming the Quidditch matches. Big fans, moving cameras, and a green screen combined to make the action exciting and realistic.
We got a live demonstration of how the green screen works. Visitors have a video or photo of themselves in the Weasley’s car or on a Thunderbolt 2000. We opted for the most economical option – just a photo on the Quidditch field. Even that was a bit pricey.
The Weasleys’ home, The Burrow, was shown in living color. The knife chopped those carrots all by itself, and in the corner knitting needles were busy creating an afghan.
This is the clock that showed the location of each of the members of the Weasley family at any time. I believe the clock was found at a local antique store and was modified for the movie set.
Sadly, it was at this point that my camera demanded “CHANGE BATTERY PACK.” Ugh, I hate when that happens! I knew the battery was low, and I was contemplating making a run back to the hotel before we headed out to the tour, but I was optimistic. We had Thomas’s DS so we did take photos with it, but (not surprisingly) the quality is a little poor, as seen below. Bummer.
Thus I don’t have photos of the Ministry of Magic, the Death Eaters, Delores Umbridge’s office, the creature creators, Diagon Alley, or the incredible gift shop. But I do have some mediocre photos of the fireplaces at the Ministry of Magic.
In the backlot (along with a refreshment stand selling Butterbeer) there were many other props and sets – Hagrid’s motor bike, the Knight Bus, the Potter home, the covered bridge from Hogwarts, the chess pieces, and Number4 Privet Drive. Sadly, we have no pictures of these things. I suppose this post is long enough without them though.
The grand finale was this model of Hogwarts. It was used in filming the panoramic scenes since the actual castle does not exist. It was immense – and incredible. The windows even had fiber-optic lighting so that the indoor lights could be on in some scenes.
Those blurry figures in the back right are people – that gives a sense of scale of this structure. There was also a time-lapse video of its creation. After seeing this we walked through a room that resembled Oleander’s wand shop. The amazing thing was that every box had the name of someone who had worked on some part of the film series. Throughout the tour the point was made repeatedly that the movies were a huge collaboration of the efforts of thousands of people – not just Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. How incredible is it that the contributions of all those people were recognized?! Very noble!
After lengthy contemplation in the gift shop (and a few purchases) we were on our way back to the hotel. To sum it up I will quote Thomas, “That was awesome!”