Making of Harry Potter- Behind the Scenes (London)
i distinctly remember being given “harry potter and sorcerer’s stone” and feeling instantly captivated by this young wizard. i even read parts of it in my closet, just to feel closer to the happenings. he was only one or two years younger than me (that meant there was hope for my letter perhaps arriving later inviting me to hogwarts).
my mom would bring me home each new book when it was delivered to costco, along with all the granola bars i could eat. i attended every movie premier during opening weekend. i waited until 12:01am at the local bookstore for the final book to be released, where i even convinced the stock guy to give me a super magical box they came in! it was sealed with official harry potter tape that said ‘do not break seal until after 12:01am on july 21, 2007.’
at one point in my wardrobe, i was the proud owner of 4 different harry potter t-shirts, previously owned by children that i squeezed into. listening to jim dale read the audiobooks was the only way i could fall asleep for years (seriously). i grew up with harry, hermione and ron.
to say i love the harry potter series feels like an understatement.
when my husband and i decided to make london our stop on our Map to Dreaming BIG tour, the excitement that filled my bones at the prospect of going to see the set of the harry potter movies was almost too much to handle! it’s was kind of like when professor quirrell tries to touch harry and gets burned – almost too much (but thankfully we didn’t crumble away)!
about an hour outside of central london sits the actual place where all of the movies were filmed at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London! this is adjacent to the working film studios, where all of the 8 movies were filmed! “the making of harry potter” is two massive sound stages and a backlot filled with all of the magical secrets and sets used with the movies. it was opened in june 2012. below is my look of shock and overwhelm.
i have a spent quite a bit of time on this blog post trying to capture my top favorite experiences but also not giving it all away because there are some seriously magical things that happen at the WB studios in london!
very important note: the tickets sell out incredibly fast and can only be purchased in advance so if you know you are headed to london, get your tickets as soon as possible or you might not get in! also make sure you print your ticket confirmation out because you’ll need to scan it to get your actual tickets.
they have fun packages that include a harry potter themed bus ride there, audio guides and/or souviner booklets. if you just want the general attendance ticket, it’s £33 for adults (which is a bit over $50 USD) and i can first hand attest what you get is absolutely worth that and more!
my husband snagged this candid photo of me being super impressed with the audio guide. there is an ipod tucked in there so the picture quality is beautiful and it’s touch screen. audio guides are £4.95 and worth it. if you don’t love audio guides, they still have a ton of interviews and videos playing throughout the whole tour so you won’t be left out.
as you enter the massive building, you are greeted in the entryway by
your best friends familiar faces and the option for a latte should you desire one. i checked and there is no butterbeer flavored latte but you can try a butterbeer later!
as you are waiting to get into the studios, the queue (line) weaves by the set of harry’s cupboard under the stairs! they even had the little spiders inside of it! the attention to detail is incredible.
i am going to leave the beginning of the tour a surprise because it was so magical and i want you to experience for yourself (if you really want to know, leave a comment or email me and i’ll tell you).
once the magic happens…your first stop is the great hall, which is absolutely beautiful!
during filming, the ceiling had a large green screen on it for graphics of the starry night or snow falling!
fun fact: at first they tried using real candles lit and suspended from the ceiling but they kept burning through the ropes and became a safety hazard!
they initially started out using real food during filming but found it spoiled too quickly. obviously the actors ate real food but the rest of the food was first baked by a pastry chef and then an artist would replicate it using resin and other materials so it appeared real but would last!
at first the faceless characters creeped me out but then i sort of liked staring at them. i felt like if i stared hard enough a face might emerge, though it never did. on the mannequins are the clothing worn in the movies. look at how tiny harry was!
fun fact: per law, the child actors were only allowed to work 4 hours each day and had to attend school so they set up a mini-school on set and cycled the children through!
after the great hall experience, the studio tour doors are opened and you are set free to roam around as you wish (and stay as long as want)! they said the average time to get through here is about 3 hours…we definitely stayed every bit of 5 hours (good question courtney!)
it was amazing to roam around free and spend as much time as you wanted in the sets or looking at props but it sort of stressed me out too. i felt like i was going to miss something and my husband wasn’t spending as long looking at things so he’d come back and be like “OMG did you see the burrow yet?! it’s so awesome!” and it was a little stressful. just mentally prepare for a free for all and don’t be too paranoid that you’re going to miss something (i have already made my husband agree that we will be coming back with our future children).
one of the super cool things about the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is that they have people who still work there that worked on the movies! we got to talk to the make-up artist below! he’s holding the box containing the make-up used for the lightening scar on harry’s forehead!
fun fact: daniel radcliffe went through 2,000 scars during all of the movies and his stunt double went through 3,000+! he also went through over 160 pairs of glasses and 70 wands!
the photo with the clothes is both harry and voldemort’s clothes before and after their dueling! the aftermath one literally says “harry’s coat – dirty.” they made their clothing dirty and left it to be used in future scenes!
again, the amount of detail on these sets was outstanding. there were whole teams who painted the murals, created the books, made the drapes, etc. they bought these chairs new and then had to work to make them look 100+ years old!
fun fact: the four-poster-beds fit all the actors just fine when they were 11 but as they grew older, they no longer fit. you’ll notice in the later movies that most often they are sitting on the bed but rarely laying down because their bodies don’t fit in them!
the potions room was amazing! it used to be a much smaller set but after professor slughorn took over the, they needed a larger set. “harry potter and the half-blood prince” had so many scenes in the potions room they needed more space. each of those bottles were hand-lettered with gold-leaf foil!
the burrow is always a favorite of mine in the movies. it seems so comfortable and like a happy, typically family lives there through the ups and downs of life. they had these neat things with the burrow where you would slide your hand over a little box and then you could control the carrots cutting, the knitting needles knitting or even iron a shirt with magic! so very well done.
fun fact: many of the items in the burrow were found at second-hand stores!
i think my favorite set was dumbledore’s office, partly because you could go into a fair majority of it. i just wanted him to tell me about his favorite candies and give me sage pieces of life advice. it was even more impressive than the photo leads you to believe!
during the audio tour of this, the costume designer said there was a purposeful difference in dress for the two dumbledores. richard harris played dumbledore in the first two movies before he passed away and was said to have a more traditional wizard and ostentatious look while michael gambon was said to have a hippie, boho chic look. this made me truly laugh out loud, thinking about dumbledore being boho chic! what a hipster.
fun fact: dumbledore’s telescope was the most expensive prop to create (and gets very little screen time)!
they obviously had props galore all throughout the massive studio! seen below is the goblet of fire to left, the triwizard cup top right and prophecy orbs.
fun fact: over 15,000 glass prophecy orbs were made before a director decided they didn’t look quite right and could be dangerous so they changed the whole hall of prophecy scene to computer generated graphics!
fun fact: originally some of the prop designers wanted to make the wands encased with jewels but JK rowling said nope, that’s not how the wands look and everyone has a different one!
below is the moving staircase, photos and notes about all of the animal actors over the years. also is the functioning chamber of secrets door! many people think it’s CGI but in fact, it really works!
the wretched professor umbridge office!
fun fact: they brought all the kitties in and did a photoshoot for each plate and then they were all adopted out but the families didn’t know that they were famous!
you can actually walk on the hogwarts express!
fun fact: there is no rail station that runs all the way to Warner Brothers Studio London so they loaded the soon-to-be-turned-into-hogwarts-express on a flatbed truck to move it and then built temporary tracks on site for the train to rest on (trains get tired, ya know).
after you pass through the real train used (and ask your husband 14 times ‘anything from the trolley dear?’), you get to go ‘on-set!’ this was a super cool experience because they have a recording playing with a set director explaining what you’re seeing out the window (since it’s computer generated) so you, the actress, can respond accordingly as they did in the movies!
they have planned this really well because by the time you pass through studio J (the other is named K), your blood sugar is very low and miraculously they have food and butterbeer for you to order!
i must admit that this was not my first time trying butterbeer. i had it at universal studios at the harry potter world there! it was too sweet (shocking, i know) but i felt like i would be missing out if i didn’t have at least a few sips! i feel like the adult butterbeer should be vodka and a dash of cream soda (but they don’t serve that).
after lunch, you make your way into the ‘backlot’ which holds even more magic before you enter the next studio!
fun fact: the actual house sign of #4 is with rupert grint because he wanted it as a keepsake!
fun fact: the knight bus was not filmed using CGI – they really drove that thing down the streets of london! they had to put a bunch of weight in the bottom because it kept almost tipping over!
below is the real bridge used on set! my cheeks hurt later that night from smiling the whole day. thankfully i married someone who also enjoys harry potter (though i would not say he’s fanatic but i’m working on him)!
the next part of the tour is interesting because it lets you in behind the scenes of the animatronics used! did you have any idea that hagrid’s head is an animatronic for quite a few scenes?! i did not.
fun fact: the special effects team built a fully operational hungarian horntail that had a flame thrower with a 35ft reach! eventually it was decided that the dragons would be done by the visual effects team (computer) but they are all very proud of this beast!
sorry for the poor lighting and i can’t remember why harry looks dead but can we just focus for a minute on how short daniel radcliffe really is?! i mean…i knew he was a pretty short guy but i was sort of shocked. i suppose i’ll keep my hunky husband who stands at 6 foot 4 inches! i just googled daniel’s height. he’s 5’5.
my eyes popped out of my head like i’d taken something from fred & george’s joke shop as i rounded the corner and my eyes greeted this:
it was amazing to see the set of diagon alley! my understanding was that they used a location initially but it was too tricky for additional scenes so they just built exactly what they needed!
fun fact: see those wands in the windows of ollivander’s? those are all that remain of the wand box props, as all the rest were purposefully destroyed in the ‘dealthy hallows’ movie!
after diagon alley, you pass through the creative side of things, which was mind-blowing to me. they had walls covered in sketchings and drawings by concepts artists. it was very interesting to see the initial drawings and models be brought to life!
for the most magical moment that seemed to have topped them all…hogwarts castle. i literally gasped when my eyes took this sight in! magic.
fun fact: the model took over 7 months to create and 40 days to assemble. it’s used in a ton of scenes through all of the movies so the attention to detail on here is impeccable.
they have interactive TV screens all around the castle which allows you to zoom in and learn more about this amazing work of art! this is the last big part of the Making of Harry Potter Studios Tour and done so very well.
i could feel my heart getting heavy as i knew we were ending our time at Warner Brothers Studio London. i clicked the last video in my audio guide and it had the directors and producers talking emotionally about the last day of filming. they refused to say “that’s a wrap” because it was just too hard.
i found myself in a little corner next to the hogwarts castle to watch this video and felt my eyes get misty. i felt a sadness myself once the books and movies came to a close so i cannot imagine how the cast and staff felt after coming here for 10 solid years and then it was over.
before you walk into the magnificent gift shop, you walk through a makeshift ollivander’s wand shop.
fun fact: on each of these wand boxes is every name of every person that worked on the harry potter film series.
i could have went nuts in the gift shop (hedwig backpacks! puzzles! sorting hats! broomsticks!) but at the time of this post being written, the US dollar does not go as far as the british pound so prices are not what they appear to our minds! i did come away with a deathly hallows keychain and a caldron mug for a total of $32 USD! worth it.
as you can see, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – Making of Harry Potter is a fantastic and magical place. i would highly recommend visiting here (and getting your tickets in advance) because your expectations will be far exceeded. even if your friends and family aren’t huge harry potter fanatics (but i know you are since you read this far), they will still find it fascinating and informative about all the things that go into making such a cult film series!
this experience deepened my love for the movies and filled me with a newfound respect for just how much effort and detail that was put into creating this magical world. it made me a happy little witch who will always try to get through platform 9 3/4.
all was well.
“whether you come back by page or by the big screen, hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” – JK Rowling
thank you to Warner Bros. Studio Tour for the complimentary tickets for my review. all thoughts and obsessions are quite obviously my own!
what did you think? are you adding this to your bucket list?
what are some of your favorite harry potter moments from the movies?