Part 1 was posted last week, so here’s Part 2 🙂
Although my first post was about a couple of places I visited in the UK with links to the filming of HP, this post is only about one place. But boy, is it the place that you need to visit if you’re a HP fan; Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.
This attraction is not like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions you can find at Universal Studios in Orlando, Osaka, or Hollywood; there are no rides. Instead, you get a intimate behind-the-scenes look at how the films were created. From props to set design, costume choices, special effects, visual effects, and the antics of the cast while filming, everything is available to discover.
Now I could easily spoil all of the cool information that you can discover and bombard you with photos. I err… took over 600 in the 6 hours I spent there. But I will not, because if you’re a HP fan, you really should be getting to the studio, learning your own facts and taking your own photos! (I can’t guarantee that I won’t bombard you with photos, but I’ll try not to go too crazy!). To start with, how does one get there? The studio is located in Watford, on the outskirts of London and easily accessible via train. There’s a shuttle-bus to get you from the station to the studio, which is very convenient. As soon as you know around what dates you’ll be able to take the tour, I’d recommend buying the tickets straight away (from the website), because they certainly sell out fast. When booking your tickets, you have the option to add on an audio guide, souvenir book, and so on. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I also got the audio guide, and it was money well spent, as you get access to extra videos, pictures, and information. We booked in for a 9.30 am start, and I’m glad we went with the earlier time slot; by the time we left the studio was super full. This is because once you’ve entered at your time and finished the initial guided part (literally the Great Hall set), you’re free to explore as you want. Hence, you’ll get people in the same spot from several different start times. So; buy early for an early time spot, and if you’re a major HP fan, don’t schedule anything else in the same day. You’ll want all the time you can get there.
The giant chess pieces outside the studio is your first glimpse at what’s inside, and entering into the lobby begins your wide-eyed journey. The Golden Keys of the first movie, giant posters, a flying car, and the smallest set (the cupboard under the stairs) is what greets you. Standing in line and waiting for our turn to go in, I found my head whipping in every direction! Upon entering the guided section, you’re treated to two short videos; one explaining how the HP films went from book to movie series, and one from the films’ main stars talking about their experiences as one of the most famous trios in history. The second video finishes with a projection of the entrance to the Great Hall. The screen lifts, and suddenly you’re standing right there, the massive doors shut and ready to welcome you into the world of Hogwarts. The guide opens the doors and you enter…
Throughout the tour, the sets are dressed up as they were scene in the movies, usually presenting a key scene. To help the sets come alive, there are mannequins in costumes to really create the right feeling. The Great Hall, with its line of Professors down one end, and clusters of students in house robes, certainly gives you shivers. Unfortunately, you only have a limited amount of time of the largest HP set, as the next time slot will be just as excited as you are to get in. But there’s definitely enough time to have a good look at everything!
Upon leaving the Great Hall, you get right into the thick of the action, full of sets, props, costumes, information on special and visual effects, information about animal training, and so much more! Each section has large videos explaining key things about creating the movies, and there are also large information boards (all of this is also available on your audio guide). You will spend a great bulk of your time in this area, so be prepared! I got shivers standing in front of my favourite sets, which include Dumbledore’s Office, the Potions Lab, the Burrow, and of course, Hogwarts Station (as well as filming on location in Goathland, a set was built), complete with Hogwarts Express! I was also blown away by the impressive 9 m (30 ft) high Ministry of Magic set. The one thing that really strikes you when looking at the sets is just how much detail went into their creation. Things that I never noticed in the movies suddenly stand out loud and proud. For example, in the Gryffindor common room there is a portrait of a young Professor McGonagall, while Dumbledore’s office contains is a large telescope. It was very expensive to create for the filming, but you only ever see it in the backgrounds of the movies. That’s a lot of dedication!
Did you know that approximately 5 000 pieces of furniture, 12 000 books, 40 000 Weasleys’ Wizards Wheezes products and packages, and 3 000 wands were made for the filming of the HP movies?! That’s a lot of contribution from a lot of different people! As I’ve already mentioned, a lot of the props are set up on the sets to help bring them to life, but you can find many, many more scattered around the tour, or else stacked up in a Room of Requirement-y way. You could spend forever looking through this piles, trying to place every object. The wands, of course, are a major feature, and it’s really fun to get a good look at the different characteristics of each one, and see how they match their user.
The tour boasts a couple of places where you can have photo opportunities with props or sets, for an additional charge. The first one you come across is the green screen area for flying on a broomstick. You actually get to have a go at trying it yourself. Unfortunately, I didn’t join this one because the queue was very large, but I do regret it a little bit now. The other chance is on the Hogwarts Express Station, where you can have a go sitting on the interior filming sets of the carriages, and trying to act with a green screen. Of course, you are free to take photos everywhere else, so grab the opportunity!
At around about the half-way point on the tour, you arrive at the Backlot, where the exterior sets and vehicles are kept. There’s also a cafe here that you must stop at, because it grants you the opportunity to try butterbeer! You can purchase it in both ice-cream and drink form. I tried both, but I have to admit- I preferred the ice-cream form. Either way it’s pretty tasty!
The most impressive thing in the Backlot for me was the Knight Bus. Unfortunately, and understandably, you couldn’t actually go inside it, but it was pretty intense towering over you anyway. Other sets in the Backlot include Privet Drive, Potter’s Cottage, and other vehicles such as another Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s motorcycle.
The next section was, rather surprisingly for me, one of my favourite parts of the whole tour! Dedicated to creature effects, make up effects, and animatronics, the next few rooms were full of things equal parts terrifying and fascinating. Thankfully Aragog is hoisted up high above everyone’s heads; if he was writhing and moving on the floor, I’m not sure I’d be able to continue the tour! One of the big highlights for me was the seated, but moving, life-sized Buckbeak. I would have bowed and patted him if there weren’t other people around!
Just like the Great Hall, one other large, significant set is separate to everything else; Diagon Alley. Having it separate to the rest of the sets really impacts you when you visit it. As the set has obviously been added to over the years, you’ve got the Weasley twins’ joke shop as well. I really wanted to enter into all of the shops; get my school books from Flourish and Blotts, potion ingredients from Apothecary, and finally a wand from Ollivanders. If only!
The final two stops on the tour had me almost overcome with emotions. The first was the famous Hogwarts model, that was actually used for exterior shots. The entire thing was hand crafted to scale, and real gravel and plants were used to make it as realistic as possible. Fibre optic lights are wired throughout the model to simulate lanterns and torches, and while you walk around the entire model, the whole lighting changes between night and day. Just being so close to the castle is such a special, overwhelming experience. You fans out there will know what I mean! The final stop is a small, dark, unassuming room, full to the brim with wand boxes. Over 4 000, to be exact, bearing the names of the individuals who helped create the world in the movies. Absolutely extraordinary.
Once exiting the tour, you’re free to explore the studio shop, which you can also explore before the tour. In here you’ll find a range of merchandise; wands, robes, books, sweets from Honeydukes, products from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and more! The only (expected) downside is that it’s very pricey. You can only visit the shop if you have a valid ticket for the day, but there is a smaller selection available in the online store, but I would only allow myself to spend that much when on the tour.
My day at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is certainly one I’ll remember for a very long time! Seeing just how much went into the creation of the world of HP made me appreciate just how much everyone involved took the extra step to really bring it all alive. It was definitely a magical day 😉