I may not exactly be magical, nor did I ever get my letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but I did get to spend the day in the next best thing. So if you are a Harry Potter fan or love learning about the inner workings of films, then you, like me, will absolutely love the Harry Potter Studio Tour! Though it may seem expensive – especially for those of us converting to the GBP – I certainly felt that I got my money’s worth. I opted to go for the basic ticket, 28 pounds, forgoing the digital audio guide and souvenirs guide in the hopes that there would be something not too overpriced in the gift shop! (More on that to come…)
We took the train to Watford Junction, a bit outside of London. From there we paid the 2 pound round trip fare on the studio tour bus that shuttles you 10 minutes away, to the Warner Brother’s studio. We got off the bus and immediately took out our cameras (actually…we had them out already from taking pictures of the bus!). Then it was off to collect our tickets, and I have to say they were extremely kind about my forgetting to print out my confirmation email, making no fuss. I know, I know – it’s always something with me!
Tickets in hand, we took our first steps in through the automatic doors where we were immediately greeted with the handprints of Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint from the Final movie premier.
Beyond that was the main entrance room. Large photos of many of the characters adorned the walls above our heads, circling the room. Off to one side was a cafe eating area, the other housed the gift shop; and it looked glorious. After a few pictures and Betsey and her friend who was visiting picking up their audio guides and books, we got in line to enter the studio. As you approach the door where groups are let in (the beginning of the tour is staggered), to the left is the cupboard under the stairs!
Soon enough, we were the next group being let in. First we are greeted in a room with four smallish screens on either side, where movie posters from all of the movies all around the world are fading and appearing. One of the workers welcomes us, gives a short rundown of the success of the Potter films, and we watch a short film. After that we go into the next room and sit down in some extremely comfy seats facing a large screen. Another worker greets us and we watch another short film, this time with the three stars explaining all of the behind the scenes work that brought Harry Potter to life, from books to films.
The actors “leave” through the door to the Great Hall, beckoning you along…and then, the screen lifts. And there it is! The large, wooden Great Hall door. After a short bit from one of the guides, the doors open, and we stepped into Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter. Entering the Great Hall, there are two long tables on either side, complete with plates, goblets, and utensils. Each of the four house’s uniforms are featured behind the tables, and at the other end is the head table, complete with the costumes of some of the most important professors. The hour glasses for the house points are over here as well.
After taking our fill of the Great Hall (and moving on so the next group could be let in), we moved into a very large room filled with sets. Once here, we could move at our own pace for the rest of the tour. We probably spent two hours in this first section alone. It had blurbs from the directors, examples of props and makeup, models, sets such as the boy’s dormitory, the potions classroom, and Dumbledore’s office! One of the things I found most interesting was the part of the room with the models of things like a moving staircase, broomsticks, the Gringott’s cart, Lupin’s trunk, the flying motorcycle, and more.
Here they had large screens running and three clips that played one after the other of the crew explaining the special and digital effects that made these things, and more, appear magical. It was really interesting to find how creative the people who worked on this are, and how far they would go to really make something look real, such as making a moving model of a dragon – complete with a flamethrower to breathe fire! It was easy to see how dedicated the team was, and how much they loved their work.
There are signs in front of everything and often clips from the cast or crew discussing a certain area to give a lot of information about how things were used, ideas grew, and why they made or did something one way over another. Another part I found amazing, simply because I’d never really thought about it, was the art department’s fine work. Every newspaper you see in the film, the details of the rooms, Hogwart’s letters, wizard games, books, and candy; all of these things that made us feel as if we had stepped into a new world, or back into our own on occasion, was due to the hard work of this department.
Though you can walk around at your own pace, there is a unidirectional flow to the tour. So once we left the first area and found ourselves back outside, we would not be able to go back to that building. This was not an issue if you take your time and not feel like you are rushing yourself through everything.
The second area is outside, and we took a short break to sit, eat our packed sandwiches, and enjoy a (yeah, overpriced) cup of butterbeer. (But how could we not try it, really?) And it was pretty tasty, very sweet, but tasty. The marshmallow-y layer on top is butterscotch flavored, and the drink itself is like a caramel/butterscotch soda.
Also in this area is the Knight Bus, the Dursley house (just the outside), Tom Riddle Sr.’s gravestone, the Hogwart’s bridge, the flying motorcycle with attached sidecar, the Ford Anglia, and the moving chess pieces from the first film. This was a great photo-op area as you could climb on the motorcycle and the side car, hop in the Ford Anglia, and step on the back of the knight bus.
In the third building, we first found ourselves walking into the “creatures room”, as I will call it. Here you can see many of the prosthetics used to make the goblins look…goblin-y, models of the Hungarian Horntail and thestrals, Grawp’s head, Black’s animagus form, and a large, mechanized model of Hagrid’s head based on Robbie Coltrain for the stunt doubles to use in far off action shots!
One of the most interesting things I found here was Lupin’s werewolf. They attempted to use a rig they built for the actor to use and maneuver the legs and head of the wolf, but it proved too difficult and so created the werewolf digitally instead. Then there were the mechanical mandrakes, rat, snowy owl, and creepy fetus-like Voldemort that could all move. It was incredible to see how they made all of these models and animatronics!
The next small room we walked into had Aragog hanging in the corner of the ceiling, towering over you, a model of a dementor, and the basalisk’s head (they made a full scale model of the neck and head for the second film, which helped Daniel act it out and make the interaction and movements more seamless – hey, it would help me, too!). There were the bones of a large dragon, a model of a small dragon, wings spread, up in another corner…and Buckbeak.
This model was in a sitting/laying position, but could move it’s head, bow it at you, appear to breathe, and had other slight movements that made it look alive. In these rooms, too, they had a video going of how the crew prepared all of these magnificent creatures.
We stepped past our favorite hippogriff and into Diagon Alley. Smaller than you might imagine, it is no less magnificent. What they have is the most recent version of Diagon Alley, as things changed throughout the films. There are all the classics – Olivander’s, Florian Fortescue’s, Florish and Blotts, etc. – and then there is also a good sized Wizards Weasley Wheezes. You can’t go in the shops, but even just viewing the amount of detail put inside through the windows is pretty neat.
Past Diagon Alley was a room filled with sketches for models of Hogwarts, broomsticks, dragons, Hogsmeade, and pretty much every aspect of the films. There is a digital desk that plays a clip about these important drafts and drawings. The hallway beyond holds sets of really cool concept paintings from four different artists. This then leads to where they showcase the white paper models they used of Hogwarts, the Gryffindor common room, the Lovegood house, and more. There are also more pieces of artwork lining the walls as you wind around to the next area…
This next bit is a real treat. A1:24 scale model of Hogwarts used for some of the filming of the school. It is complete with real rocks and plants, and such details like an actual tiny weather vane on top of a building. There is a track from the movies that accompanies the lighting switch from day to night, and at night tiny lights appear in the buildings. The presentation of this room is just amazing, and makes you feel as if you are truly experiencing something magical.
Now, beyond this is a room filled – and I mean filled – with wand boxes. Every single person who worked on the films has a wand box with their name on it. They really found the perfect way to list the credits here, I have to admit. And this is where our tour ended.
Except…we then found ourselves in the gift shop. Oh dear.
If I had but money to blow, I would have come back with pockets and purse stuffed with chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, and peppermint toads. I would have been boarding the bus in full wizard garb, complete with wand, robes, scarf, sweater, time turner necklace, and t-shirt. However, I don’t have 200 pounds or more to spend on things I wouldn’t wear very often, and maybe that’s for the best. Maybe.
We settled for trying things on and taking silly pictures instead. As I mentioned that I forwent the digital guide and souvenir booklet, I did allow my self to buy a beanie (Gryffindor, 15 pounds) that was within the amount I was willing to spend. And oh geez, my geek is showing isn’t it?
As my foray into the gift shop ended with a little less money in my pocket and a souvenir in my bag I was quite happy with, my glorious adventure at the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour had come to an end. And now that I have revealed a side of how geeky I can be, I hope that anyone else who has enjoyed the books and/or movies can someday enjoy this tour for themselves. I didn’t feel as though I missed out by not getting the guide and booklet, there was so much information already; enough to spend a whole day there!
Well readers, that’s it from me for today. I do hope that some of you happen to be Harry Potter fans so that I haven’t bored you to death with this one! If you aren’t, thanks for reading anyway and perhaps this will have sparked even the tiniest interest into this great series. Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…