Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry
"Authentic. Breathtaking. Immersive. Magical."
Hidden away in west Hertfordshire, magic is happening. Over 10 years
of Harry Potter film history is being unearthed and put on display
where, next spring, it'll form one of the UK's most extraordinary
attractions. I'm talking about none other than Warner Bros. Studio Tour
London - The Making of Harry Potter at Leavesden Studios.
Imagine being able to step foot inside The Great Hall, to come face-to-face with a Basilisk, to step inside THE Ford Anglia used in the films -
that is just a small taste of what's on offer to fans everywhere. The
truly unique tour will let you venture behind-the-scenes and witness
first-hand the craftsmanship and magic that has gone into making one of
the most successful film franchises of all-time.
A few weeks ago I was invited for a sneak peek behind-the-scenes of the
studio tour to see how the development was coming along and to take a
glance at some of the sets, creatures, special effects and props that
will be featured in the tour. Despite the fact that there is plenty of
work still to be done ahead of the launch, I was given a clear vision of
what they hoped to achieve.
Everything is being done with great care and respect to ensure an
authentic representation of the Harry Potter films. Whilst some of the
sets are still erected in their original format, many of the structures
and props have been kept in storage where they have faced damage and
decay. Drafted to repair and painstakingly restore the items are the
team originally involved in creating them. Production Designer Stuart
Craig, Make-up Effects Artist Nick Dudman, Stephanie McMillan, a whole
host of industry experts have returned to bring the world of Potter
alive one final time.
The first thing to note is that this place is huge! Set in over 150,000
square feet, the tour will be housed in two studios (J and K - a
coincidental homage to the wonderful author behind it all), as well as an
exterior space for some of the outdoor sets and props. With great
respect to the studios history, the old Rolls-Royce factory buildings
will be preserved - it is this level of care and proficiency that is
evident throughout the planning and development of the tour.
The attraction is estimated to take three hours and the studios are
expecting around 5,000 visitors a day. The pre-booked tickets will be
allocated to time slots with around 120 people per session. A free
shuttle bus will be on hand to transport visitors from Watford Junction
to the heart of the studios.
As fans arrive at the visitor's entrance they will be immediately
presented with props protruding from the ceiling. I'm talking about
either a Hawthorne Dragon or a Basilisk suspended from the roof! To the
left will be a cafe (no Butterbeer I'm afraid!) and to the right will be a
gift shop that will sell some unique merchandise only available at the
The experience starts with 8 digital screens playing footage from all of
the films - building the hype and showing you the result of everything
you are about to see henceforth. As the footage concludes you will be
taken to a cinema where you will see some exclusive messages from the
cast and crew reminiscing over their time on the set that many of them called home for the best part of a decade. From here, visitors will be
taken to the most iconic and breathtaking of the sets that will feature
in the tour, The Great Hall. Moved for the first time in 11 years, it
has been meticulously rebuilt like a complex jigsaw so that you can
witness the sheer scale and detail of the magnificent structure. Before
entering the solid oak doors, you can marvel at the statues that
surround The Entrance Hall, which are brought to life by McGonagall in
The Battle of Hogwarts.
The Great Hall itself will be decked out prior to The Battle of Hogwarts
and will be decorated with the house colours. What is evident here is
the level of detail that goes into every single prop. The cutlery for
the 1,000 extras was hand-dipped in gold, the tables were distressed
before filming and then vandalized by extras (as encouraged by Stuart
Craig), all of which added an extra level of authenticity. You will be
able to walk on the same York Stone floor and take a seat at one of the
house tables used in the films. For the first time you will be able to
witness the faint markings of the house emblems on the walls, things
that aren't clearly visible when you watch the movies.
At the teachers table will be a showcase of the costumes of the Hogwarts
staff including Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape. There will also be the
House Points vial, containing the very beads that left a national bead
shortage when they were installed in 2000.
One of the films oldest sets, The Gryffindor Common Room will also
appear in the tour and will be featured next to the Boys Dormitory.
Visitors will only be able to walk partway into these sets - a decision
that was rightly made to allow them to furnish the rooms full of props
for you to admire. You will be able to see the original beds that were
made for Harry, Ron, Seamus, Neville and Dean, which they quickly
outgrew during filming. On one of many screens detailing information
about the sets you will discover that filmmakers had to use camera
angles to hide the fact that the teenagers could no longer fit in their
beds. It is these insights that make the tour very personal and
Some of the other sets that will be featured on the tour include
Dumbledore's Office (with the Griffin doorway, the Pensieve and
Portraits), the Black Family Tapestry, parts of the Library, the
Ministry of Magic (specifically the fireplaces, Umbridge's Office and
the infamous Magic is Might Statue), Hagrid's Hut, the Potion's
Classroom, the Cupboard Under The Stairs (which you can go inside) and
the Weasley Kitchen.
Outside there will be number 4 Privet Drive, the Riddle tomb, the
Hogwarts Bridge and the chess pieces used in the Philosopher's Stone.
With some decisions still to be made there may be additional props added
outside, with the chance of rotating the pieces throughout the year.
We were told on the tour that there are over 180 shipping containers
worth of props and sets, which are available for use on the tour. We can
expect to see several display cases scattered around containing some of
these items. In addition to these props, will be those hanging from
ceilings and walls, including Hagrid's motorbike, the Gringotts cart
from Deathly Hallows- Part 2 and Quidditch Brooms. Each will have green
screens behind them with moving backgrounds to demonstrate the film
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tour is discovering that elements in
the films you expect to be done by CGI were not. A perfect example of
this is the beautiful door to the Chamber of Secrets, complete with
moving parts. You'll be able to witness some of the special effects first-hand, as Lupin's Trunk folds away before your eyes and Moody's trunk
unlocks to reveal an imprisoned Mad-Eye at the bottom (using carefully
placed mirrors). In the Weasley Kitchen you'll be able to use hand
gestures to animate objects like saucepans and chopping knives and watch the magic unfurl before your very eyes.
Also present will be 3 of the 15 Ford Anglia's that were used in the
filming. One will be specially made to provide a photo opportunity with
you inside of the car. It is worth mentioning that you will be able to take
photographs throughout the tour.
Another huge part of the tour is the creatures and animatronics section. For
those interested in filmmaking, you'll get to see how prosthetics and
models were used to create lifelike creatures. The sheer level of detail
here took me back; we were told for instance that there were several
versions of Fawkes the Phoenix, each one had the feathers individually
painted and attached. When we were there, art designers were working on
Aragog (which is huge!) and they were individually adding each hair to
the leg one-by-one. This level of intricacy is something you don't
always appreciate until you see it up close and personal.
In the creature workshop visitors will be able to see the Basilisk,
Buckbeak, the Hog's Head plaque, the Hungarian Horntail, Goblins, an
eerily dead Charity Burbage and the freakishly tall Aragog.
What I like most about the studio tour is the level of honesty and
authenticity it bestows. Whilst breathtaking and overwhelming, the tour
is in parts very raw - you will be able to see the scaffolding, plaster
and tape that holds the sets together. This gutsy decision was made so
that you, the fan, will get to experience things exactly as the cast and
crew did when they shot the films. Everything has been done with
thought behind it - with Michael Finney telling us that even the
lighting and time of day was part of the complex decision making. The Warner
Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter, is a celebration
of the craftsmanship of filmmaking of Harry Potter and I highly
Due to huge demand, tickets will only be available through pre-booking - they will not be sold on site. You can buy tickets online at
www.wbstudiotour.co.uk, when they go on sale, on October 13th 2011 or
from approved tour operators. Tickets will be priced at £28 for adults,
£21 for children and £83 for a family of four.
By Nicholas Myers
All images are TM & © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter publishing rights © JKR