*Disclaimer* This blog post contains spoilers about the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here to view the blog archive without having to scroll down this page.
On Tuesday (4th September) I went to The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden near London. Deciding I ought to make more of an effort with my father, his Nottingham family and my brother and so I accompanied them, naturally it helped the ticket was bought for me, I just had to get there.
Choosing to travel by train to save on petrol and mileage allowance, I set off from Telford Central at 11am. With a rail card a ticket from Telford to Watford Junction cost around £15 outbound and £10 inbound, compared to the cost of petrol at the moment (£1.35 per litre for unleaded at Telford ASDA) the rail tickets were a complete bargain. After arriving at Watford Junction (fifteen minutes from London Euston), it was a quick shuttle bus ride (costing £2 for a return) to the Leavesden Studios.
The Studio Tour is made up of three parts; Studio J with sets, props and costumes, the Backlot with a few outdoor sets and exhibits and Studio K, with creatures, Diagon Alley, art designs and the Hogwarts castle model.
When you first arrive at the entrance, to the left is a cafe, to the right is the gift shop and straight ahead is the entrance to the tour. Queueing to enter the tour you will walk past a reproduction of Harry’s childhood bedroom, also known as the cupboard under the stairs.
Entering a room with two sets of four screens on either side of the room, showing posters of the eight films and their names in different languages, a guide will then greet visitors and introduce a short video showing how the films came about, how the popularity of the books became apparent to the producers and the importance of creating an epic series of films worthy of the franchise. After the video has finished, visitors are led into a cinema to watch a video of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint introducing the tour and discussing their ten-year history with the studio. After they have finished, the three walk through the door to the Great Hall and the wall rises revealing the Great Hall doorway through which you enter into the tour (highlight to reveal the text).
The studio tour naturally begins in the Great Hall, walking around the room you will see the Hogwarts school uniforms for each of the four houses, costumes worn by the castle ghosts and of course, the Hogwarts faculty.
Throughout the tour I was in awe of the effort and attention to detail put into every aspect of the sets, the Great Hall is no exception; at each end of the room murals are painted on the walls, faded to look as though they had been there one thousand years. Similarly inside the fireplace there is a painted Hogwarts emblem, also faded.
After walking through the Great Hall, you walk into the main Studio J exhibition with a great number of sets on show:-
The Yule Ball
One of the first things you see after the Great Hall are props from the yule ball from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Along with a lit up mock ice sculpture of a sort of Arabian palace or Russian Cathedral are costumes worn by Harry, Hermione, Ron, Victor and Cho and a table desserts.
Some of the desserts made during filming were actually real cakes and chocolates which could be eaten by the cast and crew after filming of the yule ball scenes were complete.
The Gryffindor Common Room
The Gryffindor Common Room is one of the key sets which make up Studio J. Along with furnishings from the film, the room houses clothes worn by the three main characters during the first, third and seventh films. The paintings on the wall, like all the paintings that appear in the films were hand painted, the common room paintings depict some of the former heads of the Gryffindor House and includes a painting of a younger Professor McGonagall.
The Dormitories you actually see before the common room, but I thought the common room was more important. The beds are quite small and the summary of the room includes a paragraph about how the cast members would have to curl up to fit in the beds during the later films. The bed curtains, rather than being custom-made as you would think, were purchased from a store local to one of the set designers.
Beside the common room is the Hogwarts pendulum and clock as featured in the Prisoner of Azkaban and onwards.
The entrance to Dumbledore’s office is the next thing you will see, two statues of were actually made, a stationary one (on show in the WB Studio Tour) and a mechanical version for the spiral staircase movement.
Dumbledore’s office itself houses nearly fifty original pieces of art made for the films, as well as many books on the bookcases, which were actually made from leather-bound phone books. At the top of the office on the gallery is Dumbledore’s telescope which is never fully shown throughout the film series, but was one of the most expensive individual items created for the films.
Across the studio, next to a Leaky Cauldron corridor is the Potions Classroom, with Professor’s Snape and Slughorn’s costumes.
The jars in the classroom contain items such as baked animal bones, dried herbs and leaves, each jar was individually hand labelled.
Two versions of Hagrid’s Hut were made for the films; one to make Robbie Coltrane look bigger and one to make everyone else look smaller. The set was extended in the Prisoner of Azkaban to include a second room.
Designed to look like Mr Weasley had built The Burrow himself, no wall is at a right angle, the set is the epitome of shabby chic, with all sorts of odds and ends, complete with “magical” objects such as a self washing frying pan and magic knitting needles. The Burrow set is accompanied by clothes worn by the Weasley family including Julie Walters and Mark Williams.
The Ministry of Magic
The last section of Studio J houses the Ministry of Magic, the centrepiece of which is the “Magic is Might” statue erected after Voldemort’s forces gained control of the ministry in the Deathly Hallows. The statue, depicting muggles being squashed was crafted and painted by hand.
Behind the statue, the black and green tiled fireplaces which feature in the films as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic, stand nine metres tall.
To the left of the fireplaces are the Ministry Towers containing the ministry offices. These also enormous towers are based on a Victorian building in London.
Quite possibly the strangest room within the ministry (and I take the Prophesy Room and the Ministry Courtrooms into consideration), Dolores Umbridge’s office is on display within the ministry section of the tour.
Decorated completely in pink with ornate furnishing and kitten plates on the wall, Umbridge’s office is a very garish set. The furniture was purchased from a north London furniture shop, whilst the plates, in the tour have their kitten images displayed, during filming each plate had a blue screen centre with kitten animations added during post-production.
Whilst the colour is not at all to my taste, nor are the plates, I do quite like her desk and chairs, though I would have to get rid of the pink upholstery. The columns also I quite like with their gold gilding.
After exploring all of Studio J, you exit through doors next to the ministry fireplaces and enter the Backlot.
The Backlot as well-being home to several of the outdoor exhibits, is the only place during the tour that food and drink are allowed. Next to the refreshment area selling Starbucks tea & coffee, visitors are able to purchase cups of Butterbeer, the drink that features in the Harry Potter books and films.
The drink is not to the taste of a fair few of the visitors, I was forewarned by my father not to buy one each as a number of forums had advised against doing so, a warning I saw echoed in four almost-full cups left atop of a table. It is quite sweet but not as bad as I expected, I would definitely have some more, though I dread to think how much sugar it must contain.
Perhaps the most popular exhibit of the Backlot are the two Privet Drive houses, including number 4; the home of the Dursley family and Harry’s summertime prison. Many people were photographed knocking on the door, it was impossible to take a photo without at least one person in the shot. The house was built for The Chamber of Secrets and used for the subsequent films that the house features in, for The Philosopher’s Stone, exterior filming for Privet Drive was done in Bracknell, Berkshire.
The Knight Bus
In front of the Privet Drive set is the Knight Bus, the triple-decker bus that carried Harry to the Leaky Cauldron after inflating the sister of Harry’s Uncle Vernon during an argument. Visitors are able to have their photos taken in the entrance to the bus, but are not able to go inside. The inside of the bus, like the films, includes beds used by passengers to sleep during their overnight journeys.
At either side of the bus are two more of the vehicles visitors are able to play with at their own leisure; the Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s Motorcycle & sidecar.
The Hogwarts Bridge
The centrepiece of the Backlot area is the Hogwarts Bridge, recently opened to the public. Only a small section of the long bridge seen in the Prisoner of Azkaban and onwards was actually built, the majority of it was created using CGI during post-production. Whilst the bridge plays a prevalent role in the films, particularly The Deathly Hallows Part Two, it was not in any of the seven Harry Potter books.
The Potter House, Godrick’s Hollow
Behind the Hogwart’s Bridge, next to Privet Drive is James and Lily Potter’s house from Godrick’s Hollow. I quite like this house, being a fan of all period houses, though I would perhaps prefer a house with a roof that did not have a massive hole in it.
Next on the tour is Studio K, though I should probably mention that once you leave Studio J you cannot go back, there is a one way system in place throughout the tour. Similarly, once you enter Studio K, you cannot go back to the Backlot.
The second indoor studio houses The Creature Shop; an exhibit of creatures and creature costumes from the films, the Diagon Alley set, concept art pieces and a huge model of Hogwart’s Castle.
Many of the creatures and masks seen on-screen were created in the Creature Shop, this section of the tour is home to Goblin masks, models of the characters, models of creatures and a number of robotic creatures.
Walking around the room, you will see Dumbledore’s Phoenix; Fawkes, Mandrake Root, a life-size model of Dobby used during the beach scene of The Deathly Hallows Part One, and models of the characters from the Goblet of Fire during the underwater round of the Triwizard Tournament.
As well as the creatures I have noted there is a Dementor hanging from the ceiling, Aragog; Hagrid’s pet giant spider, and the basilisk’s head from The Chamber of Secrets.
Following the corridor from the Creature Shop and you will arrive on the Diagon Alley set.
The Diagon Alley set was inspired by a mixture of the Harry Potter books and the works of Charles Dickens, with large buildings built at odd angles housing weird and wonderful objects. The set was also redressed and used for the filming Hogsmead in the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Like the rest of the sets, an incredible amount of attention to detail was put into the Diagon Alley set, each shop was different and housing unique items. Olivander’s, the wand shop was home to seventeen thousand individually labelled wand boxes.
Here are a few of the Diagon Alley shops:-
Walk past Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and you will leave Diagon Alley and enter the tour’s art department.
The art department rooms consist of many concept artwork, paintings and paper/card models of the sets.
Studio J’s tour is much more ordered in terms of visitor progression, from the start of Diagon Alley and through the Art Department, visitors follow a single path, leading to the grand finale; Hogwarts Castle.
The Hogwarts Model
Starting at the top looking down from a gallery, you walk around the whole of the castle model to exit the tour. The model, built for The Philosopher’s Stone is incredibly detailed to the point of including 300 fibre optic lights and using real gravel and plants for landscaping and trees during filming.
The model is an impressive piece of architecture; as you walk round the structure, computer monitors are dotted beside the barrier depicting different stages of the model’s construction.
At the exit to the tour, just before the entrance to the gift shop, you pass through a room full of mock wand boxes labelled with the four thousand cast members, crew and extras that contributed to the production of the eight films.
Naturally the gift shop is a huge room in its own right with thousands of items for sale, both expensive and [relatively] inexpensive, depending on what you want to purchase.
Clothing, particularly Hogwarts robes are quite expensive with a jumper costing about £50 and robes costing over £70. Also located around the shop are special items that cost a considerable amount, and additional exhibit pieces.
Confectionary is not the cheapest, with Every Flavour Beans (which do include some revolting flavours, and I speak from experience when I say this) costing £8, Chocolate Frogs costing a similar amount.
Whilst the shop is not cheap, it is impossible to not buy anything. I doubt I will be taking my “Oh that’s pretty, I’d like that” niece there anytime soon, but I would happily go again and spend a little more, the notebooks were particularly pretty, I just need to save up a little first money!
The tour was a wonderful experience, in all honesty, much better than I anticipated, it is definitely worth the £28 cost for an adult. I only hope that Buckingham Palace a week on Sunday will be as interesting, I imagine it will be, especially with Her Majesty’s jewellery collection on display.
- http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk – Official ‘Making of Harry Potter’ Studio Tour Website