Sunday, 2 October 2016

Harry Potter studio tour

I've just returned from a great weekend during which we visited The Making of Harry Potter. I was a little too old for the books when they became famous, so the Potter phenomena somewhat passed me by. I've seen all the movies and appreciated their craft, but have to confess I wasn't really grabbed by the franchise. So the fact I implore you to visit this attraction is testament to just how good it is.

The collection of sets, props and costumes is nothing short of magical, and deftly presented in a way that captivates the young and old alike. The staff and tour guides are all clearly Potter fans and infect the audience with their own genuine excitement. The ingenuity, skill and thought which has gone into the design of the artifacts is jaw dropping, and there are so many instances of props which were commissioned to help build the on-set immersion which were never seen. My favourite were the little posters and notices which grace the pin-boards in the Hogwart's common rooms that the production design team invited school children to make.

Over the years I've been lucky enough to see the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars prop shows when they came to this country. I have to say that the Potter experience eclipses these. It's sited on two of the sound stages where the film was shot and consequently is able to include full sets (the Hogwart's dining hall is breathtaking). This puts it head and shoulders above any travelling collection.

I've got to say I'm now itching to re-watch the movies as my appreciated for the world they are set in has been ignited. While I would have dismissed it, I'm now eagerly waiting to see the forthcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The Hogwart's crest from the Great Hall. There is another at the back of the fire place which is never seen in the film because the fire is always lit.

Aged and weathered murals from the Great Hall. The stone work itself is utterly believable, and it's a surprise when you first see the rear of a structure to find that it's all plaster.

The decorative centrepiece from the winter ball.

You can just make out some portraits over this giant cauldron. I had no idea that so many portraits and paintings were commissioned for the movies. They are stunning and both the brush work and subsequent ageing makes them seem hundreds of years old. A few feature painted names or captions and the typography of these annotations was some of my favourite work.

Sections of the exhibition resemble something akin to an ancestral attic filled with forgotten antiques. The bejewelled skeletons grabbed my eye.

Bottles from the potions classroom set. The set as a whole had a bulbous shape, reminiscent of a pressure chamber or cistern.

I hadn't realised how much real-world occult iconography had been harvested for the production. Sigils and glyphs are reimagined for many magical items.

Although it had many moving parts, much of this intricate vault door mechanism was actually made of resin.

I more-than-slightly terrifying coffin/iron maiden. I can't remember how this features in the movies but it's beautiful.

There was a section on graphic design including many printed and hand-made items. Here is a fascinating interview with the design duo responsible for this work.

A sculpture from the creature section. I was surprised at how many times I read that beasts were first sculpted physically (and perhaps painted) before being scanned-in for CGI. It seems that many beasts were first attempted as physical models, then largely replaced by CG versions. As the films were released over a ten-year period CG got a lot better and cheaper.

There was a collection of paper models used to block out the forms of various locations. Despite being maquettes the level of detail is stunning. The unpainted surfaces also focus your attention on the beauty of the underlying forms. There was an accompanying room filled with technical drawings which were exquisite.

The scale miniature of Hogwarts itself is vast and fills a cavernous room. It, along with the Great Hall, bookend the tour and are the showstoppers. There was actually a dinky little white-card model of the same location (at something like 1/1000 scale) which was equally cool.

A note on these photos - I chose to take my antiquated Nikon D100 on this trip and paired it with with my manual Ai 1.8 50mm lens. The lens has no processor, so does not 'talk' to the body. It's therefore a case of 'guess the exposure'. Even at full aperture this combination meant that my photos were rather gloomy, but I feel this is rather in keeping with much of the subject matter.


  1. I was too old for HP too and after reading the first two books to see what all the fuss was about, lost interest. While I have a lot of respect for Rowling's imagination, the writing can be dull and full of exposition in parts, and her crimes against adverbs are serious! But I recently listened to the entire series from Audible, with Stephen Fry narrating, while I was painting miniatures of an evening. He brings the books alive; it's the best book narration I've ever heard. Highly recommended.

  2. Thanks Universal Head - I should check out the audiobooks!

  3. Nice experiment to bring your manual 50mm. Hats off for that one. The atmosphere in the photos are wonderful. Love how you, on some of them (the iron maiden for instance), only get a hint of the shapes. Insinuating and making people build their own complete images...

    I would love to see those scale models irl! Also the technical drawings. Have to go there some time.

  4. @ FOPA - Thanks although some shots were rather blurry. I really must update my ancient Nikon D100 as the newer bodies have much better performance at higher ISOs.