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Fall in the UK Part 2: Harry Potter Studios

Like many people of our generation, our kids grew up with the Harry Potter books and movies.  Thus, by defacto, so did we.  The Harry Potter movies were filmed at locations throughout the UK, but all the studio work was done at the Warner Brothers Studios just north of London in Watford.  The studio has a tour, The Making of Harry Potter.  Tickets are difficult to come by, especially with reduced attendance limits.  We set our sights on visiting while we were on this trip and planned our arrival schedule around the ticket availability.

The tour starts with a grand entrance into the Great Hall.  For our visit, the hall was decorated for the Halloween Feast.  This is the actual location they used to film all the Great Hall scenes.  It was quite the experience.  All the tables were filled with actual props and foods from the movie filming. There were even pumpkins hanging from the ceiling.

When you exit the Great Hall, you walk into a giant room filled with mock-ups of the sets of the various interiors they used in the movies.  It was really fascinating to see all the attention to detail in the sets.  Everything looked so real, and there is so many “extras” that just fill the sets.  Some of our favorites were the Gryffindor Common room, the Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s Office and the Weasley’s kitchen at the Burrow.

They have set up an area of booths with green screens in them where you can “fly” on a broom and they fill in the background.  Looked like fun, it was not crowded, and we are kids at heart, so we gave it a shot.  They won’t let you take photos while you do it, but we do have a video 🙂

After walking through sets of Malfoy Manor and the Ministry of Magic, you walk through a giant set of the Forbidden Forest, spiders and all.  Lots of small details to see and look for.

Another of the highlights for us was Platform 9 ¾.  This is where they did all the filming and the train was there too! More on the train later in our blog series.  The station set includes cars and compartments used for the filming.  They have set up a car for each of the movies as it was used in filming.

After a bite of lunch, we stepped out onto the back lot where they have Privet Drive and a walk through the Dursley’s house.  There is also the Hogwarts bridge.  Interesting that they only used a small section for the various takes, and then filled in the rest with computer graphics and green screen effects.

The next full stage set was the lobby of Gringotts Bank. It was fascinating to see the level of detail they put into each teller’s station. Each was different and unique.  There was also a scene of the dragon breaking through the floor.  The vaults were also fun to peer into.  So many items in them! It was amazing to think how they did it all.  It was interesting to learn that all the gold cups and other items in Beatrice’s vault were actually plastic so they did not weigh a lot and prevented any of the child actors from getting hurt.

There was an entire area dedicated to how they did all the mechanical animation and make-up for all the characters, creatures, and magical items.  They did sketches, drawings, paintings, and full to-scale cardboard models of ALL the sets and locations.  Each one was done in full detail with all the small items included.  Fascinating to see how much time and thought went into creating it all.

One of the last full sets we walked through was Diagon Alley.  So cool. But since each year the stores and story lines changes, they rebuilt the set and customized it for each movie.

The finale was a giant to-scale model of the entire Hogwarts Castle and grounds.  This castle was used for all the filming of all the scenes of the castle exteriors.  They would simply change the decoration with the seasons.  They put snow on it for the fourth movie and even lights for night shots.  They would film the actors with green screen, then film the scene they wanted on the grounds, then insert the actors.  It was just amazing to see the level of fine detail.  Everything was modeled to the utmost.  One of my favorites.

Wow, what a great visit and experience.  They really did a great job of not only helping us to enjoy the magic of Harry Potter once again, but also in how they showed and demonstrated the making of the movies. We were glad we were able to go and spend most of a day with Harry, Ron, and Hermione!

 

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