Warner Brothers Studio Tour
The Making Of Harry Potter
A Fan's Perspective
By: Josée Leblanc
Around this time 10 years ago, I was “forced” to discover the Harry Potter books because I was teaching twin girls reading comprehension and that’s the series they were both reading. Over the last decade, I’ve discovered the online fandom, made countless Harry Potter related crafts (costumes, photo albums, a scrapbook, cards, Ravenclaw swimwear, etc.) and created a Yahoo! Group on the subject, been to 4 conventions (Convention Alley in 2004 and 2008, Lumos in 2006, and LeakyCon last summer), visited the Harry Potter: The Exhibition in Toronto and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, bought Harry Potter books in languages I neither read nor speak, to name only a few. Yet nothing, I repeat nothing compares to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London, which I was lucky enough to visit before it’s official opening on Friday, March 23. I’m sure I must have overdosed on Felix Felicis for this to happen to me.
Getting to the Studio Tour was very smooth and easy. We took the underground, then the train from platform 9 at Euston Station (I think they dropped the 3/4 so Muggles wouldn’t get suspicious) to Watford Junction. We then experienced our first wow moment when we saw the shuttle bus, painted with images of the studio tour, which you can see, poster-sized, throughout London these days. It was clear that it wasn’t Ernie behind the wheel, as the drive was smooth and very enjoyable.
The two buildings housing the WB Studio tour, named “Studio J” and “Studio K”, are positively huge when viewed from the outside. Seeing them, you will hardly be able to contain yourself and will want to rush inside to begin your journey. Once inside, you will get a bit of time to admire the entrance hall and its immense posters, as well as the very first props you will get to see (Harry and Ron’s trunks, the flying Ford Anglia and a few others). After a brief wait in the queue, you will be ushered in a room with screens. To be honest, I can’t talk much about what they showed us, because I hardly remember any of it. I was too excited for what was to come. Once we left that room, we were taken to a movie theatre with very comfortable seats, and watched a short film with the trio, where they mentioned that 17,000 wand boxes were created and hand labeled. My mind was blown for the first of what would be countless times that day.
When the movie finishes, you expect to be taken through the small door on your right to whatever is awaiting you next. Wrong! The screen actually lifts and *gasps* here they are, the Great Hall doors. Now if you think that you know what these will look like because you’ve watched the movies a million times, think again because you. are. wrong… and you’re about to be proved wrong a million times over. The sheer amount of details in these doors and in the Great Hall in general is incredible. In fact, I would almost compare it to the level of details I had witnessed the day before in Muggle London, on buildings like the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The guide told us that when they filled the hourglasses counting the house points, it caused a shortage of beads in the UK, and I have no trouble believing it. The cylinders are a few inches in diameters and they are filled with seed beads; for those not familiar with them, they are about the size of a grain of rice… cut into four pieces.
Now, I really don’t want to spoil too much here, but here’s what you can expect to see in the first studio. First, there are dozens of the costumes (accessories like shoes, gloves and jewellery included) worn by the actors. Once again, you will be blown away by the amount of details you see on them, from delicate embroideries, to detailed beadwork, carefully frayed pants and rich fabrics. I think the detail that impressed me the most was found on one of Umbridge’s dresses: two little pink bows at the bottom of the dress are adorned with golden buttons.
So far, so good. Standing a few feet away, you think they look cute. Now take your camera and zoom in on them as much as you can. Doing that, you’ll notice a sort of shape, and you’ll think that they’re cats. Then once you’re back at home and zoom the picture using your computer, you’ll notice that they’re not cats, but tiny little golden skulls with diamonds for the eyes. Even costumes that are meant to look hideous on screen, like Ron’s Yule Ball outfit, look so beautiful when you see them in person that you can’t help but take a few moments admiring them in awe. A fair warning to all costumers and cosplayers out there: once you’ve seen the exhibit, the odds are you’ll want to redo your whole costume so it looks exactly like the one you’ve just seen. I know that’s how I felt after seeing the Beauxbâtons robes!
Then, there are the props, which I think I can accurately say there are thousands of! Golden snitches, letters from no one, howlers, U-No-Poo and other WWW merchandise, the time-turner, Mad-Eye Moody and Lupin’s trunk, wands, turkeys (yes, you read that right!), books, Cherri Owls boxes, broomsticks, and much, much more.
Also, there are the sets, which, once again, will leave you speechless. Once again, the amount of details in them is unbelievable. Surely you remember that in Snape’s dungeon/office, there is a sort of archway with words on it. We see it briefly and vaguely in the movies, since the lighting there is meant to be rather dark. Well that archway is actually made with copper leaf, which was hand applied. As for the potion ingredients jars, there are quite a few hundreds of them, and they each have a unique name, were hand labelled and their content is all different. It’s made from things like toy frogs that were ripped apart, then severely modified by the props crew to make them look unique. That much I was able to learn by speaking with the gentleman stationed in that area, whose name I unfortunately forgot. Be sure to use your legilimency powers on the staff. They are a wealth of information and you won’t even need veritaserum to get them talking.
By that point, I had taken 600 pictures, and I actually stopped the paparazzi work, not because I wanted to, but because my camera battery died as I was snapping pictures of Umbridge’s office. If only I could have blamed the short plump witch for killing a Muggle contraption like a digital camera, but nope! I was the one to blame on this one: I had forgotten to charge my battery the day before after visiting Muggle London. Please learn from my mistakes, and a) charge your camera, b) bring your battery charger and/or extra batteries, and c) if you’re not from Europe, bring a plug adaptor. I was lucky that Keith had his own camera and a fully charged battery. I could still have kicked myself for my mistake, but at least I didn’t go home picture less from part 2 and 3 of the Tour.
Part 2 of the tour takes place outside and you get to buy butterbeer if you wish to. Now I had butterbeer, both frozen and regular, at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, and I took a sip from Keith’s in London, and my opinion is that they taste different, though the staff assured us the same recipe is being used for both location. Perhaps it’s because I only had a sip in London whereas I had full glasses in Orlando, but I thought the Orlando butterbeer tasted sweeter. Bottom line, visit both locations, taste it and see for yourself! When you get outside, you’ll see picnic tables where you can sit down and relax. We didn’t, and in hindsight, we should have. You still have quite a bit to visit from there, and you won’t want to rush the end of your journey because you’re uncomfortable, so take a seat, sip your Butterbeer, admire the pictures you’ve already taken, and relax a little.
Once you’ve done that, take a moment to look at the large set pieces sitting outside: the Knight Bus, the bridge to Hogwarts, Number 4, Privet Drive, the Potter House (which they were still working on when we visited), the Ford Anglia, and some giant chess pieces. Be sure to take hop on the Knight Bus or Hagrid’s motorcycle and in the Ford Anglia to snap a few pictures.
It’s now time for the second and last studio, studio K. Though I’m much more into costumes, sets and props, I must say that this part of the tour impressed me just as much, if not more, as the first studio. There, you get to see the goblin masks and makeup, dragons, a breathtaking Fawkes model, the scale costumes, the Dobby doll Daniel Radcliffe carried to his grave (*blows nose and sniffs loudly*), as well as quite a few animatronics like a mandrake, the flayed baby Voldemort, and the much impressive Buckbeak. That’s where I met the most awesome little girl, dressed in velvet Gryffindor robes, bowing to the Hippogriff like a champion (she wasn’t the only one either). I unfortunately didn’t ask for her name, but she sure knew her canon back to front!
From the animatronics we walked up Diagon Alley (starting from Gringotts Wizarding Bank rather than the wall behind The Leaky Cauldron) and got to admire the many shop fronts of Ollivanders, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, to name only a few. Once again, the attention to details left us speechless. After the last shop, you enter a room filled with what can only be described as tons of blue prints, concept art and miniature models of everything from the Whomping Willow to the Burrow and the Quidditch World Cup stands. There, you can learn precisely how high the topmost turret on the Burrow is, admire concept art so beautiful you just want to steal it and hang it in your living room, and stare in awe at the miniatures which are so detailed it’s unbelievable. For example, if you look closely inside the miniature created for the Prefect’s bathroom, you’ll be able to spot the mermaid stained glass window. It was so small taking a picture of it proved to be difficult.
Once you’re out of that room, you round a corner and are faced with the pièce de résistance of the whole tour: the Hogwarts scale model. I’m sure you’ll recall the reaction the kids had in the Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone movie when they first caught a glimpse of the castle from their little boats. Well, that’s exactly how you’ll react when seeing this miniature (which is still at least a story high) of everyone’s beloved School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We thought we had seen attention to details in the rooms we had visited thus far, but it was nothing, absolutely nothing when compared to what was achieved with the castle. In all honesty, you need either binoculars or a very good camera zoom to fully experience what you are seeing; your eyes alone are probably not strong enough. The little lamp posts are so small they’d make the pen you have on your desk at home look enormous. The bridge is made of pieces of wood that are so tiny you’d think they’re toothpicks. They say that if only one person had worked on this project, it would have taken said person 74 years to complete it, and I have no trouble believing it. To be honest, I don’t think the English language (or any other, for that matter) includes words powerful enough to express what I got to admire in that room. The fact that the lighting would show Hogwarts throughout the day and night only added to the magnificence.
After that, you’d think the journey was over. What could the Studio tour possibly have left in store? The credits, of course, but with a little wizard twist. After the Hogwarts castle room, you enter a room filled with wand boxes, though they’re probably stacked in a more ordered fashion than at Ollivander’s. On many of those wand boxes, you notice a label. Oh! I know that name! Here’s Daniel Radcliffe! And J.K. Rowling! And Warwick Davis! But who on earth is David Smith? And Nicholas Henderson? And Victoria King? Ask Stephen, the employee stationed there, he’ll probably know, as the man’s knowledge of wandlore is second to Ollivander’s and of the Harry Potter cast and crew is probably unprecedented. In case you haven’t guessed it yet, the labels list the name of every single person who has ever worked on the Harry Potter films, whether they were actors, sound recorders, drivers or concept artists. There are 4,000 labels in that room, which puts everything you’ve seen during the tour into perspective. Yes, you can find the wand boxes for each and every single actor in the movies, but bottom line is, you’ll have to find them, because they are hidden among thousands of others who made the movies what they are. As talented as they are, the actors wouldn’t have been able to make Jo Rowling’s world come alive the way they did had it not been for all those people working in the shadows. Sure, Jason Isaacs can say Lucius’ lines just as well in boxers (ladies, you’re welcome for that visual!) than he can wearing his robes, but the effect would have been far from being the same had the costuming crew not been there to sew them. And Warwick Davis sure is a wonderful actor, but let’s face it, he really doesn’t look like a goblin without the makeup on. Seeing that room, you can’t help say a silent thank you to each and every single label/person for the hard work and dedication they have put into those films.
Then you enter the gift shop. So that’s it now, the tour is over, right? Insert a big buzzer sound here, because it’s not! Even there, there are props to see. The lanterns are the ones that can be found in Slughorn’s office, and the shelves are the ones that can be found in the library scenes, though we’ve been told they had to cut a portion of them so they would fit. The wall behind the cash register is also the one in front of which Gringotts goblins can be found working. The cashiers did were very happy to mention how cool they thought that they had the privilege to work in such a setting. The gift shop is obviously filled with treasures for all budgets, from cheap £2.95 Dark Mark lollipop to £39.95 sweaters and more expensive collectors’ pieces.
So the tour being over, what do I wish I had done differently? The most obvious would have been to charge my camera battery. Then I either would have left the heels at home or sat down way more often to give my poor feet a break. Last but not least, I wish I had taken more breaks but taken more time in each section, reading every sign, talking to every employee there, etc. I thought to myself “I’ll go back and do that later”, but in the end, I never did.
A few of my work colleagues asked me which I find better between the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, and the Harry Potter Exhibition (which is currently touring in Australia). My answer is that they’re all different in their own unique way. The Exhibition allowed you to sit in Hagrid’s chair, throw quaffles through golden hoops, and visit sets that weren’t shown at the Studio Tour. However, the fact that you can’t take a single picture, unless they’ve changed the rules, without having a prefect following you around makes it a lot less enjoyable. As for the WWoHP, it has the added bonus of letting you visit the inside of shops like Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, as well as eat inside The Three Broomsticks, not to mention the rides, which I enjoyed a lot. And you’ve just read my full report on the WB Studio Tour. So in short, if you can, visit them all. However, if you had to pick only one, I’d pick the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, if only for the sheer quantity of things you get to see.
I had a truly amazing time visiting the London Studios, and I’d like to thank the WB Studio Tour staff, as well as MuggleNet, especially Keith and Micah, for this wonderful and unique opportunity. And of course, thank you to J.K. Rowling for thinking about Harry and writing his adventures. At the end of the wand room, there was a quote by her that said: “The stories we love best do live in us forever. Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”. So my question to Jo is… When can I move in?
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