Magical tour of Potterverse

A behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter franchise gets Aref Omar’s inner child running wild

FANS of the mega successful Harry Potter books and films will have a hoot while those curious enough will also have something to shout about at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making Of Harry Potter attraction.

This is after all the actual location where all of the eight Potter films were shot, from Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001 to 2011’s Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Situated in Leavesden, Hertfordshire (about 34km north of London) the studio tour is just a short train ride from Euston to Watford — visitors then take a Harry Potter double-decker shuttle from Watford Junction to the studio.

From the outside the studio looks inconspicuous — a wide sprawling hangar-like structure (the area used to be an RAF airfield and aircraft factory during World War 2 before it was turned into a filmmaking facility in 1994).

The Making Of Harry Potter consists of two giant soundstages (aptly named the J and K stages) and a back lot which houses a great number of huge sets, detailed props, models and intricate costumes that magically brought the exciting films to life.

Visitors are ushered into a theatrette and shown an introductory reel featuring the three main stars of the films — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, who play Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger respectively — who welcome the guests.

The tour begins when visitors walk through the giant doors that lead into The Great Wall at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry.

An awesome set piece to behold, the famous hall is just the start of many other wondrous structures, which include Dumbledore’s office, a potions classroom, the Gryfindor common room and boy’s dormitory, as well as Hagrid’s Hut, the Weasley kitchen, the Ministry of Magic and Diagon Alley.
What’s also amazing is that all the sets, props and costumes are authentic and show the incredible detail and craftsmanship that went into the film production.

MAGIC UNVEILED

Harry Potter’s world is populated with many creatures of different shapes and sizes. Visitors get a glimpse of the magic in bringing these beings to life at the creature shop.

Perched in a corner of the ceiling, Aragog the giant talking spider has an 5.5m leg span. Covered by hand with yak hair, sisal (a fibrous plant of the agave family) and hemp from brooms, the animatronic figure was so complex that it required nearly 100 technicians to operate.

The creature shop also features make-up effects and prosthetics that were used to create the look of characters such as the Dark Lord, Voldermort, the werewolf Greyback and Griphook the goblin.

Visitors will notice the various creature models called maquettes, which were scanned by the visual effects department to develop their own computer-generated versions.

Next to the creature shop is the art department area which is plastered wall-to-wall with dozens of structural blueprints and drafts.

Another area features an interesting gallery of concept art and pre-production white-card models of all the big sets.

The studio tour also features a few child-friendly activities. One is a magical ride where visitors don the Hogwarts robe and mount a real broomstick against a green screen setting.

With wind blowing mixed with a few choice body movements, visitors can then later see a recording of themselves — through some clever image manipulation — flying through the streets of London and along the River Thames. Well, if Harry can do it, so can you.

SWEET TOOTH IN THE BACK LOT

This open air area which connects the two soundstages was originally the site used to film exterior sets during the production of the Potter films.

Here visitors get to see the life-size sets of the recognisable house on No. 4, Private Drive and the Hogwarts bridge. The quaint house was the suburban home of Potter’s dubious relatives, the Dursleys. After filming on location in Bracknell, Berkshire for the first film, the filmmakers decided to recreate the house on the back lot for the rest of the films.

Though it was never in the original novel or script, the now iconic Hogwarts bridge was created for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Only one section of the long bridge was ever built — the visual effects department created the remaining sections using CG effects. Visitors who walk along inside the bridge will notice its intricate carvings, lettuce wood patterns and solid design.

Among the many other attractions on the back lot is the 6.7m tall Knight Bus, which was created from pieces of three vintage London double-deckers, and the flying little blue car in the films.

The back lot also features a refreshment stand that sells Butterbeer — the drink that the children in the films drank at Hogsmeade. It’s essentially a non-alcoholic float with some sort of fizzy drink topped with vanilla ice cream. But watch out: It’s really, really sweet.

GRAND SHOWPIECE

After witnessing amazing sets like the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, the studio tour tops the “wow” factor with a humongous model of Hogwarts Castle. The hand sculpted, 1:24 scale construction is rightfully considered the jewel in the crown for the art department of the Potter films.

Crafted with mind-blowing detail for the first film, the model’s every courtyard, tower and turret were filmed and enhanced with digital effects to create unforgettably realistic views of the magical school.

The work on the model — built by a team of 86 artists and crew members — is so extensive that it would take one person over 74 years to complete. Visitors get a 360-degree and top-to-bottom view of the model castle as they walk around it on a gradually decreasing slope.

The Hogwarts landscape was inspired by the highlands of Scotland and artists used real gravel for rockwork and boulders, as well as real plants for landscaping and trees.

Model makers installed more than 2,500 fibre optic lights, which simulate lanterns and torches and even gave the illusion of students passing through the hallways.

It’s no wonder that a studio tour assistant reveals that some visitors have shed tears of joy while witnessing the grand model (or maybe it’s just a case of sadness at knowing that the tour is at an end).

Before exiting, visitors walk through a room — somewhat like Ollivanders Wand Shop — with floor-to-ceiling shelves that house large numbers of wand boxes, each with the name of an individual who’s worked on the film series.

From there on, visitors exit into a gift shop which eventually leads back out to the entrance lobby where a food cafe is also situated.

The entire studio tour experience takes well over three hours. Judging from the glowing reviews on Tripadvisor online, The Making Of Harry Potter attraction — which opened its doors to the public mid last year — has definitely touched the hearts of many people, fans and non-fans alike.

Details at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk.

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