Inside Gringotts Wizarding Bank: bringing the magic of Harry Potter to life
Earlier this year, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter unveiled the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. This is the attraction’s biggest expansion to date.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank opened to the public on the 6th of April 2019. Visitors to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter can now walk through the iconic wizarding bank. The experience includes the Lestrange vault, a gallery of goblins, destroyed Gringotts and much more. The expansion is a collaboration between the Tour and the Harry Potter filmmakers.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is a must for Harry Potter fans. Built at the location where most of the films were shot, the tour includes sets such as the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾, Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest. There are also several sets from within Hogwarts, as well as the latest addition, Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
The tour features iconic props and costumes from the movies. There is a chance to take part in a green screen scene, Butterbeer is available to taste, and merchandise is on sale.
Sarah Roots, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Tours, Warner Bros. spoke to Blooloop about the new expansion.
A background in hotels and visitor attractions
Roots has always been drawn to the attractions sector.
“One of the most informative things I did was to take an office job for six months,” she says. “What came out of that was a clear understanding that I did not ever want to work in an office again. So, I started my career largely in hotels and catering. I loved it, but was always intrigued by visitor attractions.”
Roots grew up in Kent. As a child, she often visited Sissinghurst Castle Gardens with her family.
“I was as interested in the people and the set up of the beautiful garden. I remember saying that I’d love to go and work somewhere like Sissinghurst, one day, and I did actually go and work for the National Trust later on.”
Tourism and heritage
Roots moved from hotels and catering to what was then the Tussauds group and Chessington World of Adventures.
“I had a great start there,” says Roots. “Following that, I moved towards the heritage side. I worked for the National Trust and two different stints at the National Maritime Museum.”
It was from the Maritime Museum that Roots joined Warner Bros. “I came from the cultural sector to the commercial one,” she says. “Often, it tends to work the other way.”
“An interesting fact about my career is that I’ve had lots of particularly lovely offices. At Chessington, I was in a fairy princess tower. At the National Trust, I had a meeting room where the Queen Mother spent her honeymoon. Then, at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Maritime Museum) I had a Wren designed office – the only Wren designed building aside from St Paul’s in London. And now, I sit within the fire-breathing distance of a full-size Ukranian Ironbelly dragon!”
The Making of Harry Potter
Speaking about The Making of Harry Potter, Roots says: “It was a brilliant time to come on board. To be part of the setup of an experience which has become so immensely successful.
“We were in a very privileged position to have these incredible, original handmade film assets. And also, to be working with Harry Potter, which has a global fan base.”
“We were able to create this experience from scratch. There’s a science behind delivering the best possible visitor experience. We were able to plan around that in consultation with the Thinkwell Group.
“Emotionally, the visitor takes a journey that begins with an amazing ‘wow’ moment in the Great Hall. This is when you’re welcomed to Hogwarts at the start. You go right through all the authentic sets and then to the model at the end, which is a very emotional space. We’ve had wedding proposals there, and fans in tears.”
Features and events
“The starting point is a fantastically good, high-quality experience,” says Roots. “It is well designed with a global IP. But the longevity and the excitement of the success is all down to the execution. It is because of our amazing staff and how they bring the films and the sets and props and costumes to life.”
The tours are kept fresh by ensuring there is always something new. The features programme means several events run through the year.
“We usually have something where the filmmakers will come in, perhaps introducing the art department or a behind-the-scenes event, or the talent who actually worked on the film offering an authentic experience of that film making process.”
For the Halloween season from the 27th September to the 10th November, there is Dark Arts. Christmas sees Hogwarts in the Snow.
The expansions, such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank are also a major highlight.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank
“The expansions have really helped to put us on the map, to grow our audience from a PR and awareness point of view. They also give something new for our returning visitors.”
The first, in 2015, was Platform 9 ¾, from which the Hogwarts Express famously departs. In 2017 it was the Forbidden Forest.
The most recent expansion is Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which opened in April. “It is absolutely breath-taking. It’s beautiful,” says Roots.
The sets were restored by many of the film franchise’s original crew using the techniques used in production. The filmmaking talent oversaw the process including Oscar and BAFTA-winning production designer Stuart Craig, construction manager Paul Hayes and head prop-maker Pierre Bohanna. The 16,500 square foot expansion comprises Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the Lestrange vault and destroyed Gringotts.
The Gringotts banking hall features tall marble columns. It is finished with brass leaf and decorated with three enormous crystal chandeliers.
The goblin tellers’ desks are heaped with ledgers, quills and inkwells. They also hold the sickles, knuts and galleons that are the currency of the wizarding world. The costumes and prosthetics of the goblin bankers are also featured.
The Lestrange vault holds the treasures of Bellatrix Lestrange. Here, visitors can find the Sword of Gryffindor as well as a Horcrux – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup.
A world-class attraction
“We were reaching a point where we were being restricted by the space,” says Roots. “We are very conscious of our customer experience. So, it gave us an opportunity. Not just to add Gringotts bank but also to expand some of our core facilities for our customers.”
The expansion features an all-new lobby, housing the information desk, digital guides and toilets. Owls and Hogwarts acceptance letters decorate the walls.
“It really feels as if you’re arriving at a top-end, world-class attraction.”
The Studio Tour Hub also offers many prime Instagram opportunities. “We’ve got an amazing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon hanging from the foyer ceiling. It’s stunning; we’re thrilled with it. Our customers hang out there, taking selfies. The filmmakers are immensely proud of it.
“Stuart Craig, the production designer, looked at the early picture of a dragon hanging in the space. He said: no, it needs to look like it did in Gringotts bank; as if it’s trying to escape, and the dragon is too big for the space. It’s a big space, so the dragon is really very special.”
The dragon in the 2011 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (II) was created with CGI. This sculpture has a wingspan of over 64 feet and dominates the space.
Magical food and beverage options
“We have expanded and refreshed our F&B,” says Roots. “We introduced our Chocolate Frog Café, where we’ve got some exciting treat products. This includes unique ice cream flavours and a really magical hot chocolate.”
The Chocolate Frog Café is themed around the iconic confectionary. Mirrors recreate the moving witch and wizard cards contained in the original chocolate frog packaging.
A worldwide fanbase
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997, and the first film came out in 2001. Since that point, the popularity of the wizarding world has continued to grow.
“Harry Potter fans are so engaged and passionate,” says Roots. “They’re an amazing audience, and also very tech-savvy. So, we can engage with them through our social media channels.
“Harry Potter is more popular than ever. The development of the wizarding world and the introduction of Fantastic Beasts has continued to build the brand. There has been so much activity in the franchise, and we are part of that wizarding world.”
“In the UK, we are the key touchpoint, the physical place where the fans can come and celebrate all things Harry Potter.”
According to research done by Warner Bros., people who grew up with the books and films are now introducing their own children to them.
“Many of those original fans are coming back to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries and so on at our special events. For example, coming to the Great Hall, perhaps, for a dinner.
“The fans are very engaged, genuine people, and it is a genuine brand. Everything we have is authentic to the films, and to that magical world. I think that’s why the model is so emotional: we’ve had people kiss the floor in the Great Hall.”
The magical world of Gringotts Wizarding Bank
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion is the biggest that Warner Bros. Studio Tour London has done, to date. Roots says it has already proved phenomenally popular:
“The set, with the marble columns, props and hand-applied brass leaf, is stunning.”
“We also have a Destroyed Gringotts, so visitors can compare the sets. It includes digital technology where the dragon thrashes about like it did in the film. This particular entry into the digital world was a new development for us.
“The Wizarding World is continuing to grow. For example, with the filming of Fantastic Beasts at the adjoining studio. This will definitely provide further opportunities. We will continue to develop new features and to think about how we can expand the attractions as the magical world grows.”
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