The Making of Harry Potter

Ever since I’ve been interested in movies I’ve been interested in how they were made. As a child I probably spent more time reading “making of” books (I still have a large collection) about my favourite films than I did watching the actual films. Partly it’s out of a desire to see how things are done, and partly a chance to take another, slower, more detailed look at the worlds created by these films.

On a recent trip to the UK we took the kids along to the Making of Harry Potter attraction near Watford, just outside London. This is essentially a collection of the original sets, costumes and props from the films and you wander around it with (or in my case without) a smartphone-style device with an audio and video guide and DVD extras like interviews and clips.

After a brief introduction from an amusing tour guide (as the lights dimmed he stage-whispered into his walkie talkie “Release the spiders!”) we watched a video introduction featuring the films’ three main stars, and then the screen lifted out of the way to reveal the large double doors to Hogwarts’ main hall. Once through the doors we entered the hall itself. Inevitably it looks smaller in real life, not least because sets like these are usually built only partially and then extended with CGI.

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Costumes. Sadly they couldn’t afford to get the real Alan Rickman to stand there all day, sneering at visitors.

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Bring me the head of Timothy Spall! My wife was pleased to see that they used the same brand of face cream she favours.

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The main room. A large collection of props in the middle, and selected dressed sets all around.

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There are various short-term events and this week was “wand week”. At right, a display of all the main characters’ wands from the films.

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Craftspeople were there all day making new wands.

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One was carving a scary face on the end of a wand. She ruefully admitted that most of her work goes unnoticed as whenever you see a wand in the film it’s being held, so her carvings are obscured by the actor’s hand.

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Potions room. Some of the pots were stirring themselves.

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The Weasley family dining room.

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The Goblet of Fire.

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The door to the Chamber of Secrets.

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A broom flying rig and greenscreen.

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There was also a corner where you could be filmed and photographed against greenscreen flying on a broomstick. Naturally you then pay through the nose for copies, so we only got a couple of photos.

There was also a fascinating display of books, pamphlets and newspapers produced for the films. These in particular contained far more detail than you would ever notice normally, even with the aid of your DVD pause button. You do have to wonder if it’s worth all the money and effort that goes into making them.

After this you pass briefly outside to see the triple decker bus from The Prisoner of Azkaban. Sadly you couldn’t actually go up inside to the top floor.

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The bridge to Hogwarts.

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Detail thereof.

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Outside you could also buy refreshments, including genuine butterbeer, which was pretty foul. And then it was back indoors for the second half, which concentrated more on creatures and the art department.

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Animatronic Baby Voldemort (ABV).

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Several items, like this book, moved around if you pressed a button on the display case.

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Spiders and dementors and dragons, oh my!

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The last full set was Diagon Alley.

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Again, the level of detail in the shop windows was kind of insane, although very impressive.

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Then came a large selection of art department drawings.

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And finally, the piece of resistance, as the French would say: a ginormous model of the Hogwarts exterior.

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The lighting changed as you walked around it.

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Now this is not a cheap day out, especially if you pause for even a second while exiting through the gift shop. But if you have small HP fans in your family (as I do) they’ll love it; particularly the interactive elements. And if you have any interest in the craft of film-making, particularly as regards designing and building sets and props and creatures, you should enjoy it. The longer you stay the more you’ll get out of it, as there’s almost too much detail to take in (these photos only show a fraction of the displays); especially if you listen to/watch all the material on the electronic guide.

But take my advice: skip the butterbeer and buy a nice cup of tea instead.