I knew that on this trip to London, I wasn't going to miss the set tour of the Harry Potter movies. It had eluded Kate and I when we were in London previously (it opened the weekend we were there and was booked solid for a few months - womp womp). I was willing to rearrange the entire trip to make it there this time. So we booked that first.
I was stressed about getting there, because travel coordination and timed events make me all crazy, but it was a painless train trip from the London Euston station to Watford Junction. From there, there was a bus emblazoned with Harry Potter to shuttle us to the set. I should have know it wasn't going to be hard - Steph had done it successfully before, and she once called to ask where the eggs were kept. She's also one of the smartest engineers I know and a definite animal whisperer.
There weren't many sets, per say, because everything was often built and destructed in a week to make room for shooting and the next project. The Great Hall was built as a permanent set because of how often it was used. It was beautiful. The stone floor was real slate and it was actually really big (they fit up to 400 teens in there during scenes), as opposed to being a camera trickery deal.They also had different costumes lined up, and this is when I deduced that I am probably the same size as Daniel Radcliff. Kinda depressing.
The rest of the two stages they allotted for the tour housed different props, costumes, make-up, mini-sets, special effects, and a green screen area where you could fly on a broom and see what it's like to act in that setting. Everything was so interesting to me - apart from being a total fangirl, it was nice to understand the work that went into the production.
In the interest of not taking you on a step-by-step tour, I'm going to share probably too many fun facts.
Pretty much everyone wore a wig at some point during filming. So that incredible jealousy I feel over Emma Watson's hair is probably totally rational, because it could have been a wig.
The beds were built when the series first started, so the boys all outgrew their beds. To save time and money, they just faked it and shot the scenes from a different angle so you wouldn't see their feet hanging off the end. To further "age" the room, they added more and more decoration to their bedside tables with each film.
This is the hallway above the Leaky Cauldron. It looked like a real hallway in the film, but it was actually a scale model, maybe only about five feet tall and shrinking as it went back, that was shot close up so it appeared larger (and real). See how the difference in perspectives totally changes where you think you are?
The Gryffindor common room was a permanent set and a favorite among the cast and crew. How could it not be?! It looks so comfy. The paintings in here and in the movies are almost all real, and painted by the art department. They painted pictures of the crew, actors, and family members, disguised in century garb.
The Goblet of Fire is carved from a single piece of oak. At this point, I was starting to think that maybe they could have taken some shortcuts.
The Potions classroom didn't lack any bit of the detail dedication either. All of the jars lining the walls contained weird looking ingredients, all hand labeled, and crafted from things ranging from plants to cheap plastic animal toys mutilated to look like verifiable potions ingredients. Dumbledore's office wasn't left out either. Each of the books lining the walls are rea;, though most are phone books covered in leather.
I was certain the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was a special effect. The way it moves (and you can see it here) is unfathomable to me. It's all mechanical, though, so color me impressed.
The Weasely house, the Burrow, was super cool. There are different mechanical objects (like that pan and dish brush on the left) that you could control by moving your hand on a track pad much like your laptop mouse. Also, I love those CheeriOwls.
The only thing not original to the movies on Number 4 Privet Drive is the house number. Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley, took it as a memento when filming was completed.
The special effects stage was amazing. I love the little mandrake, and you can see the Monster book of Monsters on the right and the dying little Voldemort on the left. Each were animated to pop up at scream, growl and lurch, and barely breath, respectively. That might be the most ecletic grouping of descriptions. They also had a to-scale Aarog, but I'm not including that out of respect for those afraid of giant spiders. Buckbeak was also there, chilling with some pumpkins.
Then there was Diagon Alley. I could have skipped up and down this short street all day. The shops were there, all decked out in their respective goods, and the intricacy was amazing.
The crown jewel (yes, the HP set tour is now on par with the Queen's diamonds), was the scale model of Hogwarts and the grounds. The art department made this so that the shots where the camera's swooping between towers or spanning over the lawns could be filmed. Is this not insane?!
Lastly, we passed through Ollivander's wand shop. All of the boxes have handwritten labels and some are animated to pop out, shake a bit, and get all magical.
This is a just a snippet of the over 200 pictures I took here. I know I'm totally obsessed with the books and movies, but taking that out, the level of detail and craftsmanship was so interesting and impressive. Have you been anywhere like this? Where no one will take you seriously for how much you love it because they know you're a total fan? I feel ya.
PS I'm over here at Europe Itinerary talking about another England excursion. This site is awesome; if you need travel inspiration, or just want to virtually escape, check it out!