Harry Potter Set Visit Report Part 3: Things Get Dark and Hairy

Harry Potter Set Visit Report Part 3: Things Get Dark and Hairy

Nov 02, 2010

Creating the Potterverse, and re-creating it seven times over, is a daunting task. While the franchise relies heavily on CG and special effects, a gargantuan part of the behind-the-scenes bewitching is aided by the makeup, prosthetics and props departments, animatronic creature creation lab and set design. All of you moviegoing Muggles are in for a treat – the cast and crew's attention to every detail expands well past the walls of Hogwarts.

On the set, Warwick Davis (Flitwick/Griphook) rolled up in a jolly mood on his mini, motorized chariot. Dressed in full Flitwick wardrobe, he explained that he hadn't done much but sit in the makeup chair since arriving four hours earlier.

Transforming into the Flitwick character takes some three hours-plus, adding Griphook's goblin garb and makeup takes an extra 30 minutes, and removing all of it adds another hour. "It doesn't come off Mrs. Doubtfire style. I wish it was that easy. It's quite a painstaking process just to get it off and preserve my skin," Davis said. With a grin, he described his love-hate relationship with the makeup crew, but expressed his gratitude for their efforts. "I play two different characters in the same film. Without these guys, for all the torture they put me through, however much I hate them, I couldn't do what I do."

When asked which character he prefers, Davis hesitated. "You have a connection and a fondness with all of them, so to choose one is really hard." After a bit of urging, he finally blurted out, "Flitwick then, if it was somebody I'd want to hang out with. I wouldn't want to hang out with Griphook. You'd never quite know whether to trust him or not. I'll have a beer with Flitwick. Not that we drink, ever. Butterbeer."

He goes a long way back with Nick Dudman, Harry Potter's special makeup designer and creature effects supervisor, who collaborated with the actor in 1981 on the third Star Wars. Dudman created Davis’s first ever “lifecasting,” which is a sculpting and molding process to create a three-dimensional copy of a human body. For Deathly Hallows, Dudman created another lifecast of Davis’s head so they could create conceptual designs for Griphook's costume.

Hairy Potter
Griphook's head and nose involved prosthetics. It was especially labor intensive for so-called “haired” objects. "All the eyebrows and hairlines are done one hair at a time. That's for every single day of shooting," Dudman said. "There simply isn't a better way to do it." Extra effort goes into grooming goblin brows, as they are a bit unruly. "They've been put in one at a time at the correct angle, having been pre-curled, so it all sits beautifully, but that's got to be the same for every day this character works, so that they can cut from day to day and it matches."

Griphook is only one of numerous intense character makeups. In a scene where the Snatchers capture Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione and Ron, Hermione hexes Harry beyond recognition. "His face is distorted," Dudman said. "[We’ve] actually copied Daniel's eyebrows hair for hair for every day of shooting."

This all takes time, and obtaining hair can prove costly. "It's real hair," Dudman said. "The longer the hair is, the more expensive it is." It's graded and comes from places like Italy and Asia. "We can either buy it colored, or we can dye it ourselves, which we very often do."

For the movie's creatures, they use yak and animal hair. The boar's head at The Hog's Head pub used pig bristles, which had to be inserted one at a time. Putting wings and feathers on props, like Hedwig and Buckbeak, is also laborious. They created birds with a stretch Lycra body, with each feather selected, hand-painted and pushed into the Lycra and glued on. "When the Lycra underneath is stretched by the machinery, all the feathers move across each other the way feathers do. So if you're doing wings, they have to open out. You have to construct them the way a wing works, otherwise it just doesn't work."

In addition to creatures, the animatronic creation lab creates entire human dummies. Remember Katie Bell, the Gryffindor student who was cursed and eerily flung around in midair in Half-Blood Prince? Rather than have the actress hang from wires, a dummy was used for the sequence. The same was also done for Muggle studies professor Charity Burbage, who is suspended over a table at Malfoy Manor at the beginning of Deathly Hallows. Dudman actually let us touch the dummy – she's mechanized so her body arches with her back bent backwards, her skin stretched, and her face contorted in disturbing, realistic fashion. The body can be used in all her scenes apart from those in which she has dialogue or close-ups.

Batty's Transformation and Godric's Hollow
Four concept art stills brought to life Batty/Nagini’s split-second transformation. The first was a profile view of Bathilda Bagshot. The second shot showed her head cocked back, mouth open, face covered with scales. In the third photo, Bathilda's head and neck were arched unnaturally backward, her face ripped open at the mouth, as Nagini's tongue protrudes. The last photo showed Nagini shedding Bathilda's body like old, shriveled skin. This was detailed by J.K. Rowling in her book, and looked like it could be a truly horrifying scene on film.

Stuart Craig, the production designer for all of the Harry Potter films, said they often referenced the book, but for anything not specified they consulted Rowling. "Please, please, please give us additional simple things like the names for shop fronts," is one of the things Craig has asked her. "We've asked her about gravestones. Could there be a graveyard within Hogwarts? She said no. Maybe she was protecting and preserving the idea which none of us knew anything about and [related to] Dumbledore's tomb within Hogwarts."

Other concepts they've run by the author include the tapestry in Sirius Black's house and Black's complicated family tree – "something that we could never have worked out on our own without her help," Craig said. They've also been careful to consult Rowling before leaving out characters; Kreacher, the Black family's house elf, was going to be written out of the script for the fifth film. Rowling vetoed that, and anyone who's read the Deathly Hallows understands why; Kreacher plays a key role regarding one of Voldemort's Horcruxes.

Adapting to the Darkness, Literally
For film franchises, it's common practice to change directors and production designers for a new film's different moods and styles. Craig's attachment to the entire series is a bit unusual but since he has designed the sets from the beginning, his eye for continuity has proven valuable. "I said to every one of [the directors], 'You don't have to have me,'" he laughed. "I know what we did before and how to rebuild it, but it isn't as necessary as it appears. I think the changes of director have been exciting and stimulating and entirely good for the whole project. A change of designer would've produced similarly interesting results, I'm sure."

It's been especially challenging for the filmmakers to adapt the books since many details of the final chapters had not yet been revealed. Craig said they've had to rebuild and revise many Hogwarts sets to accommodate additions. "When we started, there were just two novels. Not everything was known. We didn't know [about the Room of] Requirement. Certain changes have been forced upon us. The astronomy tower's had to pop up in the middle of the whole complex and the forecourt in front of it has had to get bigger and bigger to accommodate the battle at the end."

As the series has gotten progressively darker, the crew has changed the color of the sets to match the films' seriousness and emotional content. "The sets have literally gotten darker. That rather attractive sort of honey color, we've gone and painted out."

Now that the end is approaching, Craig has developed sentimental attachments to some of the sets. "I was particularly fond of -- Malfoy Manor, the interior. [There are] two large sets and two thirds of them are gone. I've seen hundreds of sets built and pulled down, but I was a little disturbed by that." He's been in talks with set decorator Stephanie McMillan and others regarding which sets to bring back for the Warner Bros. Leavesden set tour, including the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office and the Dark Arts classroom. "We are still at planning stage, but hope to preserve it … for the ninth," he joked.

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