By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by Warner Bros. Studio Tour London©
After 8 films and over 10 years of wonder, you can experience the magic of Harry Potter all for yourself. On the outskirts of London sits Leavesden Studios, the home of the Harry Potter series. Since the first movie, ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, right the way to the epic finale, ‘Deathly Hallows: Part 2,’ the films have taken over the former RAF base.
As the films came to an end and the lights went down on the impressive sets, Warner Bros. had a new idea. They would open the magical world of Harry Potter so that everyone could experience the magic for themselves. And after seven years we joined the millions who too, have peeked under the Invisibility Cloak of the Harry Potter World.
What is first worth mentioning about booking your trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, is do not turn up on the day expecting to be guaranteed entry. The best way to book is through their website – the link can be found at the bottom of the page – which allows you to book an allotted time to visit. This is due to crowd management, but also for guests to fully experience all the tour has to offer without it getting too busy.
We drove from the hotel where we were staying, Holiday Inn Express, Hemel Hempstead. The cost for one room per night was £76.00, including breakfast. It took around 10 minutes in a car and there was plenty of car park spaces, making the whole journey quick and easy.
We managed to book an early slot at 10.30am. It is advised to turn up around an hour earlier before your allotted timeslot, to allow plenty of time before your tour begins. While you wait, there is a canteen and an impressive giftshop selling all manner of Harry Potter merchandise.
As your slot gets closer you will be called to queue. This takes around 10-15 minutes and then you will enter a Cinema with a group of around 20 other guests. Here you are shown a short film all about the impact of the Harry Potter movies. It is here where the first taste of “magic” is revealed. As the three iconic characters, Harry, Hermione and Ron step through the doors to the Great Hall, the screen suddenly lifts to reveal the actual opening to the only permanent set built throughout the decade long filming process.
Throughout the entire tour there are numerous sets to visit, but the showstopper is the Great Hall. First built in 2000, it has been featured in all eight of the movies. The scale of the Hall is breath-taking and the detail in the design is truly impressive. Along the walls, costumes from the films are displayed, from Hagrid’s iconic outfit to Daniel Radcliffe’s first Gryffindor uniform. At the end of the Hall is Dumbledore’s lectern and the House Points Counters, which were rumoured to have caused a national shortage of Indian Glass Beads.
Moving on from the Great Hall, (this is the only set where you are given a limited time to look around) you enter the first of two film-lots. The first focuses on the sets and props from the movies, including the latest additions of the tour, The Forbidden Forest and Platform 9 3/4.
The whole tour is divided into four parts, Interior Sets, Exterior Sets: Backlot and Creature Effects Department/Model room.
The first is the Interior Set. This is a combination of smaller ‘backdrops’ from each of the movies. From Hagrid’s Hut, Potions Classroom, to even the animatronic door to the Chamber of Secrets, the set is like a real life ‘Room of Requirement!’ Some standout elements of this first part of the tour are Dumbledore’s Office, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dolores Umbridge’s Office, and my personal favourite, the Forbidden Forest.
The Forbidden Forest is remarkable to say the least. Consisting of 19 trees, each with a diameter of over 12 feet, the walkthrough set displays the creepy lair of the giant Spider Aragog, the animatronic Hippogriff, Buckbeak and interactive elements, from spooky fog, to the movie magic thunder and lightning effects. It is one of the most fully immersive parts of the tour and is great fun! The ground is even soft to simulate soil, which is an especially realistic touch.
The other newest addition to the Warner Bros. Tour is arguably one of the most iconic essentials of the Harry Potter franchise, Platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express. The train was transferred from the National Railway Museum in York and now rests on a remade version of the famous Kings Cross Station platform.
Like most of the tour the whole train area is interactive, allowing you to walk through the carriages and see where the famous trio sat whilst on their way to Hogwarts. There are specialised carriages which depict the journey to Hogwarts which you can experience for yourself. There is also ‘photo-op’ areas where you can walk through the wall between platforms 9 and 10. The whole area is beautifully detailed and provides a realistic interpretation of the actual train journey Harry would have made.
From this area you step out into the Backlot and the Exterior Sets which include the Knightbus, Privet Drive, Godric’s Hollow and Hogwarts Bridge, which you can walk through. There is also, dotted around the backlot, the chess pieces from the giant game of Wizard’s Chess used from the first film, Philosopher’s Stone. A small café is situated here, and it is a great place to take a break as it marks the halfway point of the tour. It is worth remembering that once you leave the Interior Sets and head out into the Backlot, you can’t go back. So, make sure you don’t miss anything before going outside to see the Exterior Locations!
Once you’ve stuffed your faces with “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans” and a Chocolate Frog, you move onto the next part of the tour, the Creature Effects Department.
This is the part of the tour which showcases how the magical monsters and characters come to life, including Dobby the House-elf, Buckbeak, Voldemort and many others. For those with an interest in Film Production, it is a must see. It is from here where you move on to see another iconic piece of the Harry Potter Universe.
Their third major set piece, and the one we were most excited to see was Diagon Alley! The set has changed throughout the years with removals and additions, however the essence of Diagon Alley is forever present. From the stunning realism of Gringotts Bank, to the wonderful “Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes” the whole set is spectacular.
The Alley does appear larger on the screen and due to the volume of guests, Warner Bros. decided to widen the set to accommodate the number of those walking through. It is worth noting that guests walk on a custom-made ramp, instead of the actual Diagon Alley cobbles to protect them from damage. If anything, this adds to the experience as it gives a better view inside each ‘shop’.
Diagon Alley appears towards the end of the tour and leads onto some of the concept art used by the film-makers to bring the magical world to life. Exhibiting ‘paper models’ of the various sets and models it provides a timeline of how the identity of the series moved from page to screen.
Though what is quickly noticeable, is how unprepared you are of the pièce de résistance – Hogwarts Castle.
The model which is described as the “Crown Jewel” of the tour, is truly breath-taking! The level of detail is awe-inspiring and has to be seen to be believed. What is more impressive are the statistics that accompany the model.
A team of 86 artists and crewmembers built the first version of the castle and, as the series progressed added new elements. To make the model seem even more realistic, the artists rebuilt miniature versions of the courtyards from Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral to match the locations where the movies were filmed. Crazier still, the artists used real gravel and plants for the landscaping and would add fake snow to give the illusion of Hogwarts at Christmas.
Though perhaps above all, as the lights dim (which happens every 10 minutes or so) Hogwarts transforms from day to night. Each tiny window glows with flickering fibreoptic lights, which gives the illusion of twinkling lanterns and even forms silhouettes of the students walking passed!
It is here where the tour ends, though not before walking through a room dedicated to every single crewmember who worked on each of the movies, who all have a wand named after them.
If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you’ll be in your element here, but even if you aren’t, I would still recommend booking a ticket. You leave feeling as if you’ve been touched by the magic of Harry Potter and it really does leave you begging for more. Though what best sums up our visit to ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ is the message left by its creator, J.K. Rowling:
“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”