Exclusive Interview: “Harry Potter” Art Director Gary Tomkins Wins BFDG Production Design Award
Congratulations are in order in the Harry Potter fandom! Art director Gary Tomkins has received the British Film Designers Guild’s Outstanding Contribution to the Art Department award in recognition of a magnificent career in making movie magic. He has given us viewers unforgettable visual experiences in some of the most significant and successful blockbusters of the past few decades. In celebration of this achievement, we interviewed him, the man who built Hogwarts, the Burrow, Shell Cottage, and many more enchanting sets.
Gary Tomkins’s impressive filmography includes a wide variety of genres, from sci-fi (The Fifth Element, starring Gary Oldman) to period dramas (War Horse, starring David Thewlis). After being a draftsman on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, he worked on all eight Harry Potter movies as an art director. After a trip back to a galaxy far, far away, he returned to wizardry for Fantastic Beasts 3. His career has taken him to various imaginary lands as well as fabulous filming locations:
There have been so many great moments over the years, on projects taking me from the [j]ungles of Costa Rica on ‘1492[: Conquest of Paradise]’ to the searing heat of the Abu Dhabi desert on ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.’ Not to mention the oh so glamourous location shoots with Madonna at Peckham Public Baths (‘Shanghai Surprise’) and with Tom Cruise at an Essex [s]ewage works (‘Edge of Tomorrow’)!
Having worked on all the movies, the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film, and three theme parks, Tomkins keeps the Harry Potter franchise very close at heart. The iconic fan pilgrimage site of the Hogwarts miniature, on display at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, is also his creation. “There’s a wealth of detail on the model [that] goes unnoticed by most visitors,” he shared about the stunning castle model that goes back to the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
When we built it on [Sorcerer’s Stone], JKR [J.K. Rowling, author] hadn’t written all of the books, of course, so when the later books and scripts required something specific within Hogwarts, we had to change it accordingly. If questioned, we just said, ‘it’s magic’!
The art department, including the art director, works on designs by the production designer (Stuart Craig on the Harry Potter movies). All of their work is based on the screenplays, which sometimes leave space for creativity that affects the final film in return, such as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2:
Stuart and I worked out a way to increase the jeopardy of the chase with Harry and Voldemort through the roof space by having hanging walkways. These then would fall and create a more exciting scene. The script didn’t go into very much detail about the scene originally, but as the set developed, so did the script once David Yates was on board with the idea, again through seeing an [a]rt dept white card model that we built.
Tomkins and storyboard artist Nick Pelham previously also discussed the colorful work of an art department in a forum with BFDG last year. Fan artists out there, definitely give this a watch.
There is more magic in store. Tomkins confirmed that he has finished working on Fantastic Beasts 3, which will be released sometime next year. We can’t wait to see more of the wizarding world as created by this outstanding artist. Scroll down to read our full interview, in which Tomkins talks about his field and artistry in more detail and reveals his favorite sets as well as his Hogwarts House.