It’s every Harry Potter fans dream. All the props, all the sets and all the costumes. There for us to all look at and learn about.
Yes, I am talking about the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tours. This huge film set hangar is full to the brim of just about anything, and everything, you could think of from the 8 Harry Potter films. Located in Watford, on the outskirts of London, UK is a place brimming with the secrets behind the magic.
I have been to the Harry Potter studio tour before. It was quite a few years ago and since then the Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts train attractions have been added to the tour. Also from 18th November to 28th January is the Hogwarts in the snow event. Where the whole tour undergoes a festive transformation. As well as that there is the opportunity to learn about how fire, ice and snow are made for the films.
The Magic Begins
At the start of the tour, you start with the beginning of the stories. As you queue to start your tour you will walk past Harry Potters bedroom under the stairs set. A member of the tour crew was telling us facts about some of the actors, and what they were like. He also told us to talk to as many of the tour crew as we wandered around. This was because the crew are all Potter fanatics and full of interesting facts about the props we were about to see. Moving into the next 2 rooms we got an introduction to the Harry Potter series and a video about the tour. At the end of the 2nd screening the great hall doors are revealed. The tour has begun.
If you are visiting the tour on your birthday then you could be in for a special treat. To open the grand hall doors and reveal one of the most iconic sets from the films. Walking into the hall reminds me of the exact moment in the Philosophers Stone when Harry and friends first walked into the hall. So much to take in, everything is so detailed, instantly I am immersed in the Potter universe.
As part of the Hogwarts in the snow, the hall had been decorated as it was for the Yule Ball. The stunning centrepiece was the ice sculpture with Professor Flitwick behind conducting the magical Orchester. The tour guide then gave us some facts about the set and the work that was involved. I found out that the huge icicles hanging from the ceilings are made from resin. Also that some of the original set creators had come back to add the Yule Ball details to the hall. This was the last guided section of the tour, the rest of the tour was self-guided.
So I’ve split the tour into different sections based on what there is on the tour. Come join me in the wizarding world.
Props, Sets, Costumes and Magic
Entering the next room you start your journey through the props and costumes. Every one with information boards to find out how the piece was used on set and what film it was from (in case you couldn’t guess which one!). What I loved about the whole tour was the number of facts and information that was available. I will share my favourite 4 facts from the whole tour with you later in this post. If you wanted more information or a more guided tour there is an option to have an audio guide which will give you further information and guide you through the sets so you don’t miss a thing.
I got to look at the Gryffindor common room all decked out with a Christmas tree. Peered into Hagrid’s house in its higgledy-piggledy style and Dumbledoors office was on display with every single detailed prop from the paintings on the wall to the vials in the memory cabinet.
Joe’s favourite things were the props, in the middle of this room was a cage full of props, everything from wands to the time turner necklace. Including the Triwizard cup, golden egg and the goblet of fire. The goblet is carved out of wood! How cool is that? Carved from one old English oak tree trunk. It really is a masterpiece. Another of Joe’s favourite was the death eater masks, they just looked so detailed and awesome. All the Quidditch kit was on display as well as various doors. For example the Gringotts vault doors and the Chamber of Secrets snake door where there. The Gringotts door was animated. You pressed the button and the locks moved the same way they do in the film.
The also had the set from the Malfoys manor in the 7/8th film as well as Dolores Umbridge’s office full of pink tiles and cat plates. You will find Privet Drive and the Knight Bus among the sets to look at too. There were sections from the Ministry of Magic in the later films, including the muggle statue. The videos from members of the cast and crew telling you how these sets were made. One fact about the cat plates was that camera crew spent a day filming cats doing various things and wearing various outfits. They were then green-screened onto the plats that were on set.
Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts Train
Now, these 2 sections I hadn’t seen before. The forest was a great experience. You are literally walking through one of the forbidden forest sets, the smoke machines were giving an eerie atmosphere. To your right is Buckbeak the hippogriff, one of the moving models from the films. The trees you have to have a secret touch of as they are so realistic you have to check that they are actually models! Head around the corner and keep your eyes peeled for Aragog and friends before heading onto Platform 9 3/4.
The Hogwarts express is there in all its glory. What I love the most about the train is that it used to be a working, in service passenger train. The carriage has 8 compartments in it and each compartment was kitted out with the props from the train scenes in each movie. At the end of the carriage, you’ll find the Honeydukes sweet trolley. The final costumes the actors wore on their final day of filming are also on display for you to see.
Special Effects and Creature Design
The special effects in Harry Potter are huge. Everything from broomsticks to spells involved special effects of some kind. You will find the contraptions used to make the broomsticks fly, Mad-Eye Moody’s broomstick is there to demonstrate the mechanics behind the flying. The video on the screen behind shows how they were used in filming. Mostly done in front of green screens so the background is added in afterwards. We loved the Gringotts vault cart. It moved from side to side, up and down and you could look at all the parts moving. Do you remember in the Chamber of Secrets film when the Whomping Willow was bashing the Weasleys car? Well, you can find out how this was done too!
The creature design department is a must see. Learn how creatures such as Dobby, werewolf Lupin and Buckbeak are all made. The design process that goes into them and how they animate them. You can see all the goblins masks and the effort that goes into each one. Interesting fact: Fenrir Greyback’s hair and mask took around 4 hours to apply. Imaging having to sit for 4 hours in a makeup chair before you even get started on the days filming.
Art Department and Hogwarts Model
This is my favourite department and they are the people who really do create the magic. The costumes, characters or sets would not have been built if it wasn’t for the art department. In this section, you get to see the drawings behind your favourites sets. The technical drawings show the intricate work behind every detail of every prop. White cardboard to scale models are brilliant to look at and in my mind, I picture how that model turns into the film sets I’ve come to love in the films.
Round the corner and come across the most amazing sight you will ever see. The Hogwarts castle model. When this model was first built around 86 artists and crew were involved in the process. The landscape is inspired by the Scottish Highlands and the castle courtyards inspired by Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral. As part of the Hogwarts in the Snow event, the whole model had been turned into a winter wonderland. The crew had dusted the castle with ‘filmmaking snow’ (a mixture of salt and granulated paper) to give it that magical Christmas feeling.
4 Favourite Facts
As promised here are my 4 favourite facts from the tour.
- There were 588 independent sets created for the Harry Potter films.
- The Ministry of Magic atrium might look like it was made out of tiles but actually, it was made out of CNC machined MDF.
- It took 8 weeks to build the huge Hogwarts model
- Over 4000 cast and crew have their wand boxes on display in the final room.
Have you been to the Harry Potter studio tour? What was your favourite part of the whole experience? Share below in the comments!
See you next time and happy adventuring!
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