Step inside Harry Potter’s universe

On a tour of the Warner Bros Studios near London, Aref Omar learns about the magical work that went into building the fantasy movie set

THE successful series of enchanting tomes by author J.K. Rowling, about the adventures of a boy wizard named Harry Potter has also resulted in the highest grossing film franchise of all time. With a total worldwide box office of over US$7 billion (RM22.5 billion) according to Forbes, the franchise, which consists of eight critically acclaimed film adaptations, has kept fans thrilled for a decade.

It was in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) that cinema-goers were first introduced to the bespectacled 11-year-old orphan.

Played by Daniel Radcliffe, Potter was destined for greatness and defied odds to enrol at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) by his side, Potter took his army of fans on a fantastical journey through various stirring onscreen exploits — ending with a climactic battle that saved humanity from the dark forces of evil as he turned 17, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011).

The film came to a hearty close with the now married 37-year-old Potter and his friends seeing their children off to their old alma mater. Some might have breathed a sigh of relief after that mega marathon of magic and wizardry while others celebrated with gales of joy and satisfaction.

But whether you’re an actual fan of Harry Potter or not, there’s no denying that the impressive set of films showcased an epic story rich in visual detail and splendour. And one thing that all eight films share in common is that they were filmed at the Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, near London. This is the same locale with a history of filmmaking magic that gave moviegoers such silver screen hits like GoldenEye, The Dark Knight, Sherlock Holmes and Inception over the years.

But Leavesden will be known the most for being the site where the Harry Potter universe came to life on-set. And this wonderfully imaginative world is kept alive for fans of all ages, newcomers and curious Muggles (Potterverse for those born into non-magical families and are incapable of practising magic), who can savour its spectacular glory at the Warner Bros Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter attraction.

The studio tour, which opened early last year, is made up of two giant but seemingly inconspicuous soundstages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures, intricate props and lush costumes, as well as breathtaking special effects.

Among the many major sets that greets visitors is the majestic Great Hall in Hogwarts Castle. Based on the dining hall at Christ Church, Oxford, the prominent space, lined by four long tables, served as the main gathering area in the fictional British boarding school for magic, where students would eat their meals and receive their daily post delivered by owls.

It also served as a location for special events, such as the traditional Sorting Ceremony early on in the film series. This was where the new students were divided according to four houses — each representing a founding member of the school — with Harry, Ron and Hermione ending up in the House of Gryffindor.

All of the tables and benches contained within the hallowed hall were specifically made for the films. The children were encouraged to add their own graffiti onto the furniture over the years by the production team to replicate what happens in the real world at most schools.

In the films the roof of the hall was a star-speckled velvety void framed with a dazzling array of floating candles. The flickering lights were originally hundreds of real candles suspended by wires that were later digitally removed. But while the first movie was being filmed, the heat from the flames burnt through the wires and caused candles to drop onto the tables. From then on all the floating candles were created digitally. At the front of the hall set is the staff table, with the elaborate costumes of the Hogwarts staff — from Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid to Severus Snape — decked out on mannequins.

Also on display are the various small scale roof replicas of the Great Hall, some with false perspectives for the special effects teams to work their magic in integrating them all into the films for different angles. Close by is a sumptuous table spread of the various desserts featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire during the epic feast segment, mostly made from painted resin.

Another major set of grand proportions that fans would most definitely salivate over is the iconic Diagon Alley. This is the busy wizarding and shopping area behind the Leaky Cauldron where Harry gets a hold of his first wand and other supplies early on in the film series.

The cobble-stoned area was built with Charles Dickens’ books in mind, in addition to the various descriptions from the original Harry Potter books. Among the many eye-catching row of shops along the alleyway is the Eeylops Owl Emporium, where Harry got his birthday present — a snowy owl named Hedwig bought by Hagrid.

The area also features the twisted Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes store, which took three months to build and was filled with 120 designed products.

Ollivanders wand shop had more than 17,000 individually labelled wand boxes in it.

These are just a few examples of the many magnificent sets and authentic props awaiting visitors on the studio tour.

Suffice to say the brilliant imagination and superb craftsmanship that went into making these works of art are a joy to experience. They’ll definitely give fans of the Harry Potter film series many memorable behind-the-scenes moments and a deeper appreciation for the amount of work put in to bring the fantastical universe to reality on the big screen.

A testament to the popularity of the beloved story of Harry Potter, the studio tour received its millionth visitor last December, less than nine months after its doors were opened to the public. 

WARNERTV’S HARRY POTTER FESTIVAL

RELIVE the magic of Harry Potter with WarnerTV. For the first three weekends this month, watch a different Harry Potter film at 8pm on WarnerTV (HyppTV channel 613). Catch the hit films beginning tomorrow with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Sunday.

Subsequent films Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire will be aired on Aug 10, followed by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Aug 11), Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (Aug 17) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1 (Aug 18).

Then, starting on Aug 23, spend the entire weekend watching all six movies back to back, starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Aug 23, 11.30pm). The marathon continues on Aug 24 with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2pm), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (8pm) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (11pm).

On the following day, catch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2pm) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (5pm).

TEN FUN POTTER FACTS

1. The infamous scar on Harry Potter’s forehead was applied by make-up approximately 5,800 times — not only on Daniel Radcliffe, who had the scar applied approximately 2,000 times, but also on all of his doubles and stunt doubles.

2. Although Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the franchise’s least successful film monetarily, it still topped the most successful Twilight film by US$90 million (RM290 million).

3. Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron tasked each of the film’s three main stars to write an essay on their characters, in a bid to get to know them. True to their characters, Emma Watson wrote a 16-page essay, Daniel Radcliffe wrote a simple, one-page paper, and Rupert Grint never even turned his in.

4. For his taped audition, Rupert Grint dressed up like his female drama teacher and rapped about Ron Weasley. It began with, “Hello, my name is Rupert Grint, I hope you don’t think I stink.”

5. Each and every wand used in the Harry Potter films was created on-site. No two wands were alike, not even those used by the Weasley twins.

6. The floor in the Great Hall is made of real York stone. This was a very sensible suggestion by production designer Stuart Craig who realised it was the only way the set would stand the test of time and the trampling of thousands of small feet, despite its initial cost.

7. J.K. Rowling used bits of her young self as the basis for 11-year-old Hermione. The author’s favourite animal — an otter — was used as Hermione’s patronus as well.

8. The deadly phantom sentries of Azkaban Prison, called Dementors, represent depression and were based on Rowling’s struggle with the disease.

9. As of 2008, over 400 million Harry Potter books in 67 languages have been sold worldwide.

10. J.K. Rowling is the first author to earn over US$1 billion (RM3.22billion) for her books.

Visit www.wbstudiotour.co.uk for more details on the Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

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