Harry Potter Set Visit, Part 1: Storytelling, Special Effects and Spoilers!

Harry Potter Set Visit, Part 1: Storytelling, Special Effects and Spoilers!

Oct 06, 2010

A mere eleven hours’ flight from L.A., and we were smack in the middle of the wizarding world—that would be the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie set at London’s Leavesden Studios, the massive arena housing the Ministry of Magic, an animatronic creature creation lab, and enough prop storage to create a Harry Potter museum. We got a good look at how this world is brought to life, and talked to director David Yates, Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville, and Daniel Radcliffe, the Boy Who Lived himself.

Spoiler alert! If you haven't read the book, beware. This set visit report contains details on the seven Potters scene, Bill and Fleur's witchy wedding, movie additions that weren't in the books, and loads of other secrets from the set.

The publicity tent was our first stop at the studio, where we writers perused movie photos, concept art, props and costumes that filled the room. One of these costumes was the outfit that all seven doppelganger Harrys wear: a blue-gray track jacket, red shirt and jeans. The sequence involves six of Harry's friends who take Polyjuice Potion to impersonate him as they flee his home on Privet Drive. The goal: Evade Death Eaters who are hot on his trail and get Harry to a safe house.

Daniel Radcliffe Sees Seven
Although he wasn’t needed on set that day, the titular Chosen One was gracious enough to stop by and chat. Decked in a gray suit jacket and sporting disheveled hair not unlike his character, Daniel Radcliffe described the detail it took to create seven spitting images of himself. "A lot of it is more painstakingly slow than complex." The shot where they drink the potion and start transforming into the seven Potters took 95 takes, he said. "That's impressive by anyone's standards."

Using a motion-control camera, the crew filmed Harry in one spot, then panned around the room of empty space. They then had to film Radcliffe in six more spots around the room as he pretended to be Fleur, Mundungus, or whomever drinks the Polyjuice. At the end of the day, he was shown a primitive version of the shot. "It was the most gratifying thing to see how good it looks. Everyone's overlapping—all arms and hands. It should be really effective because it did take a long time to get right." Despite the lengthy time for just one shot, he enjoyed doing the impersonations. "I was just delighted at how good I looked in [Fleur's] costume! It looked like a David Bowie outfit."

Unfamiliar Territory
From the seven Potters chase scene, to Bill and Fleur's wedding at The Burrow, to various urban locations around the UK, the story then turns into what Radcliffe describes as a "road movie," as Harry and Ron and Hermione go on the run and try to gather vital information. "People will be seeing the kids outside of Hogwarts for the first time, which is a big deal."

For this type of storytelling, director David Yates used cinéma vérité as they move from place to place, living in a tent. Yates talked about relishing the tender moments between Harry and Hermione: "They're both at that stage where Ron's left and there's this intimacy between them. So there are all sorts of corners that you turn because they're young adults and turning those corners in the real world are actually quite fun and interesting. The vérité style just seemed to suit that."

Movie stills that we viewed, though, set a darker mood: a weary Harry keeping watch at a small tent in the woods; a close-up shot of Hermione showing her crying; another photo showing her casting enchantments with bloodied hands; Harry running, and chips of wood flying near him as if he were under attack. "Just for jeopardy, we've added a scene where the snatchers chase Harry, Ron and Hermione," Yates said.

At Bill and Fleur's wedding festivities, Yates also added a tender scene where Hermione and Harry dance for the first time. "It's a really beautiful moment, and it's full of proper sexual tension because they're both teenagers." Another photo of Hermione shows Viktor Krum kissing her hand, and in a rather comical shot, Hermione is also shown in a simple yet stunning red cocktail dress, dancing with Viktor; Ron stands in the background looking sore and envious.

A Witchy Wedding
With a strong French accent, Jany Temime, the fashion designer on the films since Prisoner of Azkaban, spoke fondly of designing for Emma Watson. "She went from a child to a teenager, but all the time she kept in mind that she was Hermione. She never asked me for more glamorous clothes.

Designing for the first Harry Potter wedding was a daunting task itself, as Temime took into account that this is not a Muggle wedding, and the bride is no ordinary witch, but Fleur, the half-Veela fashionista. "Fleur is French so the idea was to have a wedding with a little French tone — not a Weasely wedding, which would've been in tragically bad taste. I wanted to design for her a real witch-princess dress. I thought of the Phoenix – a bird, maybe not of love, but at least of rebirth – because love is eternal, so it's the same sort of idea."

A photo of Clémence Poésy modeling Fleur's sleeveless, princess-cut dress made out of delicate organza reveals exquisite detail. Two Phoenix birds shaped in black lace face each other to form a heart on her chest. Fleur wears a matching Phoenix hair piece on the right side of her head. The delicate fabric is fringed and fluffy, made to look like it belonged to the family for 20 generations, Temime said. "I wanted something very dreamy-like."

Read on for Part 2

Check out our interview with Daniel Radcliffe

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