To say that I am a fan of Harry Potter is an understatement. I remember reading the first book, HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone in grade school for Reading class. I’ve read every book, watched every movie, even bought HP Trivial Pursuit to test my knowledge. Hearing the first few notes of the film score immediately puts a smile on my face. To this day, the first book / movie is my favorite because it’s the story that got me hooked. I grew up with Harry Potter and even as a muggle adult, it still has the same impact on me as it did when I was a kid.
When Brian and I agreed to visit London as one of our stops in Europe (read about it here) we knew that we could not pass up on touring Warner Brothers Studio London where they filmed all eight movies. This was our chance to stand where the actors stood, see original sets / props and sample REAL butter beer!
The studio is about an hour drive outside of central London, so I booked a tour through the official website that included a round trip charter bus from Victoria to the Studio and back. Another perk to a stress free package was they played HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone during the ride! On arrival, we were handed our tickets, ushered inside and told that the tour is in studios J and K (get it, J.K. Rowling!) So clever. We waited in line for about 20 minutes until 50 of us were led into a big room with screens scattered on the walls above us. The room was completely black as a greeter, dressed in original Hogwarts house robes, asked us some trivia.
Lets test your knowledge – The Hogwarts school motto has a crest which reads “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus”. What does that mean? Read the rest of the post to find out!!
A video started playing on the screens that depicted the journey of J.K. Rowling from her inspiration, to writing, to publishing and then adapting to film. Next we were led into a theater where we watched a short film narrated by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger). They explained that although they were the faces of the characters, the real magic behind the movies were the set creators, designers, artists, engineers, composures, directors, animal trainers, and many more behind-the-scene staff. The last scene was the door that leads into the Great Hall and magically the white screen scrolled up and there was the actual door of the Great Hall! It was a moment I will never forget as I grabbed Brian’s arm and attempted to pick my jaw off the ground. This was it. I was going to enter the actual Great Hall. We were invited to step forward and walk through the doors and explore.
Stepping through the doors was an emotional experience. I felt like a student walking up to get sorted into a house. The sorting hat sat on a pedestal 2/3 into the room. Around us were long tables with original props and costumes. At the far end was Dumbledore’s golden owl podium. Behind the podium were costumes of each of the professors and to the right was the hourglass tracker of the house points – all hand painted glass beads. I looked above us, silently wishing to see floating candlesticks – all CGI of course. As our time ended in the Great Hall, I made sure I was the last one to leave so I could get an image of an empty set.
We were then led into Studio J where costumes from the Yule Ball and other scenes from HP and the Goblet of Fire. Moving along we turned a corner and my eyes widened – all the sets were laid out before me. Gryffindor common room, Snape’s potion classroom, Hagrid’s hut, Dumbledore’s office (my favorite), Umbridge’s office, the Ministry of Magic, House of Black and many more. The intro video wasn’t kidding – everything on the sets were handmade, hand painted and carefully thought out. All the original wands were in a display, the goblet of fire, the golden snitch, the marauders map, the Sword of Gryffindor – EVERYTHING you can think of that was a prop in the movie was displayed before us.
We then had some fun with the green screen room. We put on robes and hopped on a broom. The screens put us in different settings (Hogwarts, the streets of London and alongside the Hogwarts Express) as we acted out the scenes. My acting skills need some work, but it was so much fun! They informed us that many of the Quidditch scenes were done in big green screened rooms and the rest was mapped out in post production. Next we entered the Back lot Café where we sipped on our Butter beers. Life changing butterscotch goodness! The back lot was outside and housed Privet Drive, the double-decker bus that picks Harry up in Prisoner of Azkaban, the bridge of Hogwats, Hagrid’s motorcycle and the larger than life sized chest pieces from HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
After finishing out Butter beers, we entered Studio K. Right away we ran into the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 3/4. It’s real! We even got to walk inside the train and view the carts where the actors filmed. A Honeyducks trolley awaited us at the end with treats. We continued and saw FX make up of the goblins, Voldemort and many other characters. They displayed creature effects of Fawkes, Buckbeak, Nagini, Aragog and the Basilisk. Moving on were two incredible moments – Diagon Alley and the 1/32 sized complete replica of Hogwars with a 360* ramp so you could view the whole thing.
The last room were hundreds of wand boxes with every character, actor and crew member that was in the books or worked on the films. This room led into the gift shop where you could purchase replicas of almost everything from the movie.
Now when I watch the movies, I can say that I have been there, exactly where each scene was filmed. It has taken my obsession to a whole new level and I will never forget the feeling I got when I walked through the Great Hall doors. If you have a chance to go to the studio, I highly recommend it. If not, please visit the WB website and browse! It’s interactive and features fun facts about the sets.
Ready for the answer to the trivia question from above? The Hogwarts school motto has a crest which reads “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus”. What does that mean? “Never tickle a sleeping dragon.”