I am a massive Harry Potter fan, and after my Dad decided that going to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford would be a good birthday present for my Mum, i insisted that I was able to go along to. The Harry Potter books are some of the most iconic books of my generation, and have played a massive role in a number of people lives, especially kids! I fell in love with the world of Harry Potter that J.K.Rowling had created when I was just six years old, having my Mum read me the first couple of books as bedtime stories. They are the first books I have vivid memories of, and when the first film was released I was even more excited. Being eleven years old at the time and just starting high school myself, I was really excited that I would be the same age and living my high school educational career at the same pace (on the most part) as the characters and cast in the films.
So…on to the magical world of Harry Potter in studio form…
Despite being a standard beige building on the outside, the sheer size of the studios and the enormous, actual chess pieces used in the films, outside, my excitement grew and grew as I got nearer the door. The first thing you are greeted with as you go in through the doors is huge pictures of some of the more involved cast members at different ages, which is incredible to see how much the actors all grew and changed throughout the films, even those who were adults from the first production.
The start of the tour is a general informative piece on the progression of the cast and the speed at which Harry Potter gripped so many places and became a global sensation from the desk of a secretary at Warner Bros. in 1996 to the multi-billion dollar franchise it is today. The story of how the books were selected to be made into film was fascinating, and there were a couple of surprise facts in there too for the die-hard Potter fans. You then move on to a cinema type layout, where you get to see the three main cast members (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint tell you about their experiences on the set and you get to learn more about the behind the scenes secrets which is really interesting and fun to see.
Then the real adventure begins as the doors to the actual set of the Great Hall open and you are welcomed by a warm feeling that you are actually a Hogwart’s student, pushing open the doors and stepping onto the echoey stone flooring and gazing up at the ceiling. Moving through from the Great Hall, you are launched into an enormous building which is home to all the indoor sets, and the some of the many props that went towards making Harry Potter such an intricate and amazing franchise. I was actually in awe at how many of the props and sets they uses were actually built and used in the films rather than using CGI. There were a number of things, especially the Gringots carts, the moving parts of spoons in cauldrons and the vault doors, and even the moving lids on the trophies. Every detail looks as though it has been considered and designed so thoroughly, it’s incredible to think that someone took the time to make each and every thing. Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, this tour is totally worth seeing if not for the art and the design that’s gone into each and every part – even the art work and the models that have been made for each set and action sequence is completely mapped out before filming takes place.
After trying some Butterbeer, which I have to admit wasn’t my highlight – it tastes something like a mixture between cola and toffee, we moved to an outside section of the tour, where Number 4 Privet Drive is located along with the Knight Bus (something else which I thought was initially CGI on the whole in the film), and a full size section of the bridge between Hogwart’s and Hagrid’s Hut which you can walk through. More chess pieces also loomed over us, surrounding Mr Weasley’s flying car, first seen in the Chamber of Secret’s. I was a little distraught that we visited when we did, as in less than a months time they are opening a full size replica of Platform nine-and-three-quarters, which was just a large white tent for my visit.
After taking in the enormity of the life sized props that had been built, things got even more amazing when I walked through to the CGI section of the tour, where hundreds of prosthetics and mechanical intricacies are kept, including masks of all the Gringot’s bank workers and life size prosthetic models of the cast members for the lake scene in the Goblet of Fire, and many more, including a massive Hagrid head, which was used as part of a suit worn in the actual filming on wide shots to give Hagrid his tall appearance (when using an almost 7 foot rugby player on stilts wasn’t enough)! I was also astounded at the number of moving objects there were, including owls, mandrakes and even the book from the Prizoner of Azkaban which tries to eat everything in sight, which was remote controlled in the film. I was even more in awe when I went through to the next room to find a full size Aragog and Buckbeak (complete with moving parts).
The final part of the tour is possibly the most magical, as you get to walk through Diagon Alley (the real set used on the film) with such intricate detailing in the shop, it almost feels like you are walking down a real street, complete with moving parts in the Weasley’s prank shop! To end the tour before hitting the incredible gift shop, in which you can purchase moving owls, every t-shirt you could imagine, every variety of sweet and chocolate you have ever seen in the films and read about in the books, some more intricate choice items and even replicas of wands from any character of your choosing (which amazing me how different, heavy and good quality they all were), we walked through an interior of Ollivander’s, with hundreds of hand made, hand painted, wand boxes, each with the name of a member of the cast and crew (from the biggest starts to the runners) that worked on all eight of the films. It was at that point that it felt like the Harry Potter franchise was, as Daniel Radcliffe pointed out in the introductory film, one big family.
Possibly the most amazing part of the tour for me, I have to leave until the very end to mention – after seeing all the amazing pieces of art work and models for each and every scene in the films was an enormous model (made out of individual miniature shingles and bricks which took almost 9 months to complete) of the entire Hogwart’s castle – which I was beyond amazed to find out they actually used for filming all the wide and sweeping shots (overlaid with some weather and characters of course) in the film – no CGI once again!