Warner Brothers have opened their Harry Potter film studios just north of London for an exciting new attraction that is bound to keep the legend of the boy wizard alive for years to come. Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter takes visitors on a walking tour of the the studio where the films were made that includes close up inspection of some of the most iconic Harry Potter sets, behind the scenes revelations of many of the special effects and a chance to see the exquisite craftsmanship and artistry that brought the stories to life.
We visited for a pre-opening preview in March 2012. Explore the gallery to see what we saw.
At the end of a short film at The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Brothers Studio tour, The screen sweeps up to reveal the massive doors to Hogwarts used in the films. The doors open, by the magic of course, and the tour begins.
The Great Hall
Visitors entering the tour through the Great Hall get their first taste of the rich detail to come. The tables are set and costumes, are arranged around the hall. The House Point Counter, rarely visible in the film and just visible here on the right behind the figures at the head of the hall, contained thousands of colored glass beads. The owl podium used by Professor Dumbledore is covered in real gold and holds a blue crystal ball in its talons.
You may notice that the Great Hall's magical ceiling is missing. That was actually done with computer effects and using a ceiling model inspired by Westminster Hall.
One of the surprises this tour discloses is how many of the effects were done by mechanical means and film artistry rather than through CGI.
Ceiling of the Great Hall
The physical ceiling of the Great Hall, filmed separately, was inspired by arched timber vaults of Westminster Hall. The magical effects that played across the ceiling were created by computer-generated imagery.
Originally, the hall's floating candles were suspended by titanium wires and had real flames. But early in filming, the flames started burning through the wires and dropping onto the long wooden trestle tables below. The candles, from that point on, were CGI effects.
The Yule Ball
Colorful drinks chill on piles of ice cubes around a massive ice sculpture. This prop from the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seems so real, you can almost feel the chill off the glistening prop ice and smell the tingly, fruity drinks. Ninety decorators spent more than a month transforming the Great Hall into silvery, icy ballroom.
The Chocolate Feast
In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". the start of term feast concludes with a decadent orgy of chocolate. The chocolate props look almost too good to eat — and of course, they are inedible. But during filming, some real cakes and sweets that the cast could eat were prepared and arranged around these incredible inedibles.
The swinging pendulum of Hogwart's Clock dominates one end of the exhibition, between the Gryffindor Common Room and Dumbledore's office. Beneath it, via a set of touch screens, visitors can fold and unfold a Hogwarts map and explore even more scenes from the films.
Stargazing in Dumbledore's Office
Dumbledore's Office is a feast of details. Cabinets are filled with golden stargazing paraphernalia and crystal balls (see left inset, bottom). Shelves are lined with hundreds of books (really phone book pages inside the covers). In Dumbledore's golden cabinet of memories (right inset, bottom), hundreds of memories are stored in tiny vials, each of them individually labeled. You can actually peer into the cabinet and just about read some of them.
Case after case of intricate and exquisitely made props show off the craftsmanship and artistry of the Harry Potter art department crews. Dumbledore's Deluminator, lower right, was crafted from a Victorian perfume bottle. Ominoculars, lower left, were designed in a steampunk style, merging Victoriana with futuristic technology. Also pictures, the Horace Slughorn hourglass, and the ruby red Philosopher's Stone.
A surprising number of the magical effects in the Harry Potter films were created by animatronics and engineering rather than CGI. Moody's Trunk is one of several mechanically operated devices included in the exhibits. The complicated tangle of wires (inset left) is the hand-built rig that operated the "Chamber of Secrets" door with its slithering snakes. And you probably thought that was a computer effect too.
Professor Snapes Potions Class
The Potions Classroom set includes three large, vaulted spaces. The walls are lined with jars which have been filled with baked animal bones from a local butcher's shop, dried herbs and leaves and other mysterious ingredients. The cauldron filled with a green glow (bottom) stirs itself.
The Weasley's home, The Burrow is weird and wonderful. There are no right angles in its construction and all the surfaces are slanted so everything is slightly off-kilter. Some of the magical props used in the film are busily at work on set. As you watch, the frying pan washes itself and a knife cuts away at a chopping board.
Delores Umbridges Office at the Ministry of Magic
As she gained power at the Ministry, Miss Umbridge's wardrobe became pinker and pinker. She liked ornate furniture and decor. For her office at the Ministry of Magic, the set decorators sourced furniture and decorative objects from a Middle Eastern shop they found in North London.
Up Up and Away — Broomstick Wizards Take Flight
Midway through the studio tour, visitors can don a wizard's cloak and board a broomstick to see how green screen technology creates the magic. Riding along in a bit of special effects department wind, you can watch your own image flying, digitally merged with a variety of filmed scenes. Tour guides, always on hand to answer questions, give a bit of direction — lean this way, lean that, no hands — making the experience even more real. Later, of course, you can buy a photo of your broomstick flight or Quidditch game.
Magic is Might
As the Ministry of Magic began to fall under the influence of Lord Voldemort and other dark forces, a new statue, "Magic is Might" filled the Atrium. It depicts a witch and a wizard sitting on a throne, crushing struggling muggles beneath them.
This small section of the sculpture, hand carved from foam by the art department, demonstrates the skill and detail that went into the sets and set decoration.
Jars of sweets, spells, and potions, copies of the Daily Prophet newspaper, games, boxes, maps, books and labels were all carefully designed for the films. The objects in these two photos, on display at the studio tour, were used in many of the films to add texture and reality to Harry Potter's world. Most of them would appear on screen for a fraction of a second. Some were never really seen by anyone but the actors themselves. It's this kind of attention to detail that makes the studio walking tour fascinating.
Boarding the Knight Bus
You can board the 22-foot-high, triple-decker Knight Bus in the Harry Potter Studio Tour London backlot. The bus was made from parts of three, vintage London double-decker buses. Two were actually made, one of them motorized so that it could be driven. Visitors are invited to board the bus, sit in Hagrid's motorcycle or "ride" in the vintage Ford Anglia that carried Harry and Rupert in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
In the creature workshop, special effects heads are shown in various stages of production. Some creatures were created with prosthetic make up while others were mechanical animatronics. The leading characters also had special effects masks made up. You can see two bald Harry's at the bottom left of the table.
The Creature Shop
Intricate prosthetics, masks and mechanical devices were made in the creature shop. Goblins and monsters peer down from shelves and the faces of the Basilisk and Buckbeak glower at visitors. All these materials were used in the films. The Creature Shop exhibit includes Hagrid's Monster Monster book, which bares its teeth and unsheathes claws; a tiny, shrunken Voldemort that breathes and squirms and a mandrake that grows.
Mermaid With an Evil Agenda
One of the fiercest models in the Creature Shop is the Medusa-like head of a mermaid. In Harry Potter's world, mermaids apparently have darker agendas. This creature has evil looking slits for pupils and rows of needle-sharp crystalline teeth.
Shops on Diagon Alley
Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, left, and the startling bright orange of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, are among the wonderful shops along Diagon Alley. It took more than three months to build Fred and George's joke shop, designed to look like an 18th century store. Most of the construction time was spent on the twenty-foot tall mannequin above the entrance.
Inside Weasley's Wizard Wheezes
The Weasley's shop on the Diagon Alley set has 120 different, specially designed products that reflect their mischievous sense of humor. Peering in the window to identify them all will definitely appeal to equally mischievous children. The display for Weasley's Puke Pastilles, pictured here, continually disgorges green pellets. Mmm.
Diagon Alley is truly magical. As you walk uphill, on real cobblestones, you can peer into each of the shops - potagers, apothecaries, wand merchants. Everything is so incredibly detailed that you have to keep reminding yourself, this was built as a real film set, not a theme park attraction. And, unlike some theme park attractions, this is one street of shops where you, the visitor, can't buy anything. But don't worry, there's plenty of opportunities to spend money at the end of the walking tour.
Eighty-six artisans, technicians and craftspeople spent several months creating the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle. It was used for exterior shots in several of the films. Scale models of real locations, such as the courtyards of Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral — where scenes were filmed on location — were incorporated into the model.
Fifty-feet in diameter, the model is fitted with 3,000 lights and figures can be seen moving along its hand-sculpted corridors. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour London ends with a spiral ramp so visitors can see the model from all angles. Lighting effects cycle the castle through day and night so the full impact can be appreciated.