Creating Special Effects Magic in the “Harry Potter” Series
Do you remember that scene where Harry is speeding away from the Hungarian Horntail in Goblet of Fire? Or maybe that Quidditch scene where Harry is racing to get to the Snitch in a frigid storm in Prisoner of Azkaban?
Can you imagine all of these jaw-dropping scenes being filmed by jumping on a trampoline in front of a green screen?
The movie magic of Hogwarts has always been a feat to marvel at. The tricks of the trade that the production team uses to get these rather grandiose and enchanting scenes made are just as intriguing as the finished product itself.
In some cases, they will train the actors on how to properly jump on a trampoline in order to get those jaw-dropping action shots. Rupert Grint described the entire process as being “quite scary.” Take a look at the video below from Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Behind the Magic” to see for yourself.
They start the actor in a harness to get them accustomed to staying confined to bouncing on one area of a specialized trampoline.
The second phase is when they begin to throw all varieties of Quidditch balls at the actors while they’re mid-air so that they can get a proper shot of someone blocking or catching a ball while being airborne. Sounds just dangerous enough to be considered a wizard sport!
The second way that they achieve those dazzlingly realistic flying sequences is to set up a moving replica of a broomstick on a staggeringly tall rig in front of a green screen.
For as simple as this method sounds, it is probably one of the hardest to properly execute. It takes an enormous amount of planning each time they choose to use it. Each actor must be filmed separately, even if they are speaking to one another in the scene. The lighting for each one must be perfectly prepared before filming, and movement of the rig must make sense according to the special effects that will be added in post-production.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg!
The animation that was involved with the process of transforming Jim Broadbent’s character, Horace Slughorn, from a fancy armchair into a fancy Slytherin professor was extensive, to say the least. They had him perform the scene as he normally would. They then took that footage and rotoscoped digitally the extra fabric and padding around him to make it appear as though he were a chair transforming into a human. For those unfamiliar with animation terminology, the process of rotoscoping is when the special effects artist manually traces over the necessary animation, frame by frame, for use in an animated or live-action feature. It was a daring and painstaking feat of animation that they succeed beautifully at. Take a look at it within the same video here.
The scene where London’s iconic Millennium Bridge was destroyed was achieved by taking real footage of the bridge in the beginning (to establish the shot) and gradually moving it into being entirely CGI. Everything from the bridge, to the water, to the people were generated by computer by the end of the scene, depicting mayhem and destruction.
When it came to creating the atmosphere in the seaside cave with Harry and Dumbledore hunting down one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, the scene below was almost entirely generated by computer from start to finish. A practical set was built in order to have the actors be able to actually perform on some sort of platform, but it consisted of just the rudimentary parts of the cave. The entire background, the water, and (as expected) all of the magic was entirely created by the special effects team and the animators.
Dave Legeno, the late actor who portrayed Fenrir Greyback, is highlighted in this section of the video, which showcases the artistry of make-up and costuming. It’s astounding to see how such a friendly man can be effectively transformed into someone who looks undeniably vicious. He went from a nice individual who played acoustic guitar and harmonica with Tom Felton during scene breaks to a merciless predator on set.
If you’re interested in learning more about the special effects for the Potter films, they are discussed at length on the special editions of the film releases. You can find a comprehensive listing of these on MuggleNet.
If you would also like more about many of the Quidditch scenes that were filmed, take a look at the entire article from Business Insider Australia.
All in all, effects are a team effort and a work of animation and production art. The fact that they are able to achieve such a highly sophisticated level of movie magic is astounding to study and witness on screen. Whether it’s jumping 30 feet on a trampoline or transforming from a chair into a human, these teams are experts at creating magic.
Tell us what your favorite special effects from any of the films are by commenting below!