Harry Potter Set Visit, Part 2: Hanging Out at Hogwarts, and Why the Yellow Pages Came In Handy

Harry Potter Set Visit, Part 2: Hanging Out at Hogwarts, and Why the Yellow Pages Came In Handy

Oct 07, 2010

Continued from Part 1 of our set visit

Hanging out at Hogwarts
While there isn't much filming going on in Hogwarts for Part 1, that didn't stop us from touring the school of witchcraft and wizardry. Upon entering the Great Hall, we saw a magnificent White Peacock. (Yes, they do exist!) Rowling mentions the bird as the resident pheasant on Malfoy Manor. The animals are trained in the environment to get used to noise, people and distractions. The hall itself is the longest standing Potter set, used from the very beginning.

When filming first began, the producers didn't know how far they'd go into the series, but they decided to invest in it regardless. All of the sets are made of plasterboard, chalks and wood, but the Great Hall's floor is real York stone. The cracks in it are also real, due to regular wear and tear. At capacity, the hall seats 350 children, not including the film crew and all of their equipment. Minors are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours, and are required to break in between. So when those 350 Hogwarts students are dismissed, another 350 come in to replace them.

For the first two films, all the food in the feast scenes were real. Kitchens ran down the sides of the set for caterers to replace the food every so often. Since the third film, they've toned it down a bit, and now fake centerpieces made of fiberglass are used.

Statues of magical creatures line the sides of the hall, each with a flame bowl hanging from its maw or beak. The flame bowls are real and burn with gas, but the crew keeps them on only for a limited time, for health and safety reasons. Mahogany panels decorate the walls. While they give the hall a look of elegance, they also serve as real secret passageways. Should there be any type of emergency or fire, cast and crew can evacuate quickly and efficiently.

Warwick Davis, who plays Griphook and Flitwick, said the completeness of the sets is what sets the films apart. "Although we do use the tools of CGI to enhance everything, quite a lot of it is actually here, as you've seen when you've looked around. Some people are surprised. There is actually a Great Hall, and to all intents and purposes, it's complete apart from the enchanted ceiling. They haven't quite figured that out yet." He compares the experience to working on Star Wars. "[On Star Wars] you walk on to a set and it is only a little piece of a wall and the rest is green screen. So for actors, [this is] a beautiful experience working on [the Hogwarts set] because you are actually there. They're not leaving quite so much to the imagination."

The Headmaster's Office
Apart from the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office is the next longest standing set, which was first used in Chamber of Secrets. It actually served as Snape's office as well, after a set redress. Now, the late headmaster's portrait hangs on the wall along with the other former headmasters. If you were wondering, Dumbledore's wooden chair isn't the least bit comfy, nor would it pass an ergonomics test. On his desk were a few quills and novels, including Lord Byron's works. (Tidbit: Rowling fashioned Snape as an anti-hero, also known as a modern Byronic hero.)

The cabinets are stocked with knickknacks, and bookshelves—filled with hundreds of books—line the walls. Yellow Pages came in handy here; they're bound, covered and used as props to fill the shelves. A steep double staircase leads to the upstairs lair where there's a huge globe, and real weights hang from the ceiling.

Ministry of Magic
Harry, Ron and Hermione infiltrate the Ministry of Magic disguised with Polyjuice Potion. We walked down a long, blue-tiled corridor that led to the inquisition room of the Muggle-born Registration Commission, where Harry and Hermione find themselves in search of a Horcrux locket. The set is made to look like a courtroom with tiered seating around the circular space; a lone chair stands in the center where the suspected Muggle-born is chained. Although a little eerie looking, the set was made to look like an extension of the London Underground, which is a Victorian invention. If you got lost in the Underground, you might just come out here, in the Ministry of Magic.

An expected change that readers will notice at the Ministry is the lack of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. After the Ministry's fall and Voldemort's takeover, the fountain is replaced with a Magic is Might monument. We got a glimpse of the sculpture, still in the process of being made. Nick Dudman, who heads the sculpting studio for special makeup, said the sculptors used 13 Muggle figures to model nearly 60 Muggles after – these Muggles are interlocked and form the base of the monument. Atop the base stands a witch and a wizard, their wands raised harmoniously. The sculptors heavily based the monument on Russian sculpture to convey the totalitarian view.

Special Makeup and Creature Creation Lab
Dudman, who's known as a creature effects master, showed us around the animatronic creature creation lab and prosthetic makeup studio. Upon entering a storage room, Buckbeak stands at least seven feet tall to greet us. Dozens of creature props are on display, including the Monster Book of Monsters, a Thestral, Lupin's werewolf, Dumbledore's Phoenix Fawkes, a Basilisk, Dobby, a massive Aragog and more. Dudman went into great detail about the labor intensive efforts it takes to create not only the creatures, but the prosthetic makeup as well. "If you do a prosthetic makeup, all eyebrows and hairlines are done one hair at a time."

Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, undergoes a gritty makeover for his character's evolution. "The first week, it was really enjoyable. I thought, 'This is fun! This is great.' About 12 months later, it's pretty boring. The novelty has definitely worn off. When I get the full thing on – a headpiece as well – it took two hours for the first few weeks. We've knocked it down to about an hour and a quarter now." Other changes in his prosthetic makeup included getting rid of the fat suit, which he had to wear in past films to portray a pudgier Neville. "Neville's slimmed down. We're trying to suggest he's living underground at Hogwarts, and he’s been this resistance leader. So he’s not had time to eat, and he’s been stressing out."

Like Radcliffe, Lewis has played his role since the beginning, and said he'll miss the security of having Harry Potter. "Auditions are the worst thing in the world. I go to pieces. I just can't do it. Everything I do from now [on] is going to be a little bit harder, but at the same time, it's time to move on and do something else. I can't wait for that either – some ambivalence on it, really. I'm happy, sad, a little bit of both."

Here's Part 1 if you missed it

But wait, there’s more! Check out our interview with Daniel Radcliffe. But first, tell us what you expect from the new Harry Potter movie.

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