July 4: The Making of Harry Potter

Wow, what a day. As a birthday gift to Nora, we visited Warner Brothers Studios: The Making of Harry Potter. All. Day. The level of detail and artistic attention to these movies is astounding. We bought a guided tour, so we went through for one 3-hour tour, then we could go back in for a self-guided look at any items and activities that we didn’t get to do the first time around. We spent about 5 hours total, so many details to explore.

Outside were huge posters from the Daily Prophet, and statutes of the wizard chess match from the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The studio portion started with a short movie talking about how the producers found the first Harry Potter books from an unknown author, J.K. Rowling, just as they were beginning to get popular. As Nora can tell you, the publisher suggested that she use her initials instead of her full name because a book about a boy wizard written by a woman might not sell as well. Shows them! Only the first few books were published when they started making the movies. I wonder if they knew what they were getting into–it was a good bet!

The first scene we entered was The Great Hall, where all new wizards get their introduction to Hogwarts. The ceiling is unfinished because there is a magical ceiling in the movie, showing the night sky or whatever they want, so there was no need to create a faux-stone ceiling in the studio.

Right now the studio is featuring The Goblet of Fire, so they had the working goblet available, and a tour guide “lit” it and it popped out a bit of parchment with Harry Potter’s name on it. It’s amazing to realize that movie was made in 2005–13 years ago–and still has such popularity.

Costumes from the Yule Ball in the Goblet of Fire movie. Nora loves Hermione’s pink dress in the middle. It was made of silk and she was so scared of ruining it that she actually fell on the stairs the first time they tried to film a scene, then she realized it wasn’t so fragile and everything went fine after that.

The colored fountains from the prefects bathroom in the movies, enhanced with Anders’ photography skills.

The Gryffindor common room. They explained that each character has a color palette, so their clothes are always identified with their character.

More color palettes for Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The Invisibility Cloak is here with the green inside, so that the green screen is used for the special effects.We got to walk in to Dumbledore’s office (of course we couldn’t touch anything). Ask Nora about Dumbledore’s beard–lots of funny stories about the actors. Honestly, actors kind of sound like a pain in the butt!  

The Mirror of Erised, which shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of one’s heart.” (“Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards, as if reflected in a mirror). The happiest person in the world would look in the mirror and see a reflection of exactly the way he or she is. Looks like Nora is happy. The Potions Room set was pretty cool, although we could only look from afar. Our tour guide could go into the sets and show us things close up, like the Potions books. They had to make lots of full books so that when the kids are working and flipping through them, the audience sees something on the pages! They also went to the zoo and bought toy animals that they took apart and reassembled in creepy ways then put in the jars.

We got to play some special effects magic–in Hagrid’s Hut they took a picture with our camera for us. Anders is seeing his future.

Now some bad guys. This is a gruesome scene. They filmed a live snake separately, then the actors pretended the snake was there, then they put it together. To get a picture of a snake attacking, looking right into the mouth, they would sit with a camera and wait until the snake yawned, then zoom the camera toward the snake–clever!

Delores Umbridge, we love to hate her. Her pink color palette grew more intense as she gained power in the movie, with her clothes starting out pale pink and getting darker as the movie went on. They actually painted the kitty plates decorating her office specifically for the movie. They got kittens from a local shelter to model, then they gave the kittens away to local families, who never knew that they were famous.

They offered several special effects opportunities (that you could purchase afterward, of course). The kids both took the broom rides–here’s the video of Nora. They start with an explanation of the special effects, and her ride is the last 50 seconds or so.

Into the Forbidden Forest! They used lots of animatronics for the huge magical animals. We saw Buckbeak bow to us, there was thunder and lightning and Arogog the giant spider came out of a cave, and all of its children descended from the trees. It wasn’t so scary, they make it for little kids.

We got a 1/2 hour rest on the guided tour. It’s great that they let us bring in our packed lunches, and we bought some Butter Beer and Butter Beer Ice Cream (which costs a fortune, of course). It’s kind of a butterscotch soda, and everyone agreed it was too sweet!

Then on to the backlot where we saw some sets outside. They actually shot the scenes on Privet Drive in a London-area neighborhood, but had to move the house here because the neighbors were always dealing with tourists.

In the house we got to see the cupboard under the stairs! But not inside, unfortunately.

The Hogwarts Bridge, which looked a lot longer in the movie because of the way they shot it.

Then to Diagonally! Olivander’s wand shop, the Weasley Twin’s joke shop, and all of the other favorites.

And the Hogwart’s Express. The train actually belonged to a collector. We could walk through to see the mock-ups of scenes from the movies. They also had a chance to sit on a train set with the scenery going by and direction to tell us how we are supposed to act (but we didn’t buy that video).

There were several rooms of art design, animatronics, costumes, mock-ups of buildings and sets. So much detail and imagination! 

The last room had a huge model of Hogwarts, which they used to shoot any of the views of the whole castle. The detail is astounding. You can walk all the way around it on a series of leveled walkways. Nora got a little extra explanation from our guide.

At the end there are several rooms of wand boxes, one for every person that was a part of making the movie. Nora found some of her favorite characters, and they showed us where J.K. Rowlings box is, which is also near Emma Watson (Hermione). I asked how they were organized, they said that they are not organized! Some of the guides work in there and know where the favorites are. They could even immediately find some of Nora’s favorites that are probably not so in-demand, like Tonk and Luna Lovegood.

Just ask Nora for any more stories, this is just the tip of the iceberg. It was fun and fascinating for all of us!

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About Christy Anderson Brekken

In no particular order... Instructor and Researcher, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University. Educational background: University of MN Law School, 2005. MS in Ag and Resource Economics, Oregon State University, 2011. Teaches: Agricultural Law, Environmental Law. Mother: brilliant 9 year old boy; brilliant 6 year old girl with benign myoclonic epilepsy on a modified ketogenic diet therapy. Married to: Ted Brekken, OSU Department of Electrical Engineering. Ride: Xtra-cycle Edgerunner with kid seat; 400-pound cargo capacity. Grew up: Devils Lake, ND. Lived in: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Pohang, South Korea, Trondheim, Norway, Corvallis, OR. Interests: Cooking, knitting, eating, yoga, laughing, hiking, traveling, staying sane.
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