The Harry Potter films are a hit in our house as they appeal to all of us, which is a rarity in our family. As well as watching them, I really enjoy looking into the making of the films and finding out what happens on set. Some of the special effects have really evolved over the series – after all the first one was released 15 years ago.
As I was putting together these behind-the-scenes facts it really made me want to go on the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour to see first-hand the making of Harry Potter. The later books were still being released while the films were being made, so the production crew kept the majority of the sets, props and costumes in case they were still needed, which doesn’t usually happen on a typical production.
This means that you can go and wander around sets like Diagon Alley and The Great Hall as well as getting involved in the special effects by having a picture taken of you riding a broomstick in front of the green screen or, pushing a trolley through the platform 9 ¾ wall. Here are some of the most interesting behind-the-scenes facts from the Harry Potter movies to give you a flavour of the tour.
The Great Hall
The reason that Harry, Hermione and Ron look so in awe of The Great Hall when they walk in for the sorting hat scene is because this is the first time the actors had ever seen the amazing set, so their reaction isn’t staged at all.
And in this first film, The Philosopher’s Stone, the candles that float above the tables aren’t computer generated, they’re in fact hung from wires. This means that the trio would have seen them in all their glowing glory. However, as the candles burned the wire and they fell down, for the later films they decided to add them in post-production.
The numbers stack up
There were over 588 sets built for the eight movies and it took five warehouses to store the film props, including 5000 pieces of furniture, 12,000 handmade books and 40,000 Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes sweets – which used 300 litres of silicone to make.
To give you an idea of the scale of things, there were over 20,000 packages and goods in the windows of Diagon Alley and over 1,000 bottles in the Potions classroom. Some contained baked animal bones from a local butcher shop or a selection of dried leaves and herbs, while all the potions they drank were actually soup. In Dumbledore’s office, the hundreds of books on the shelves were old phone books covered in leather and made dusty.
The opening scenes of Hogwarts castle and many of the exterior shots actually used a 1:24 scale model that took 40 designers seven months to make, including three months alone for the bridge. It housed over 300 fibre-optic lights and they used salt to look like snow.
Harry and Hermione
In order to make the two prominent characters look more like they’re described in the books, the producers tried to give Harry green eyes and Hermione buck teeth. However, Daniel Radcliffe had an allergic reaction to the green contact lenses, and Emma Watson couldn’t speak clearly wearing the false teeth so few scenes were filmed like this. Across the films, Harry Potter went through more than 160 pairs of glasses and 60 wands.
Triple decker bus
The Knight Bus from The Prisoner of Azkaban was built from three vintage London double-deckers and was so top heavy that four tons of weight had to be added to the bottom so it didn’t fall over. An area of London was shut down for eight nights over eight weeks for filming. The bus drove fast around slow-moving cars then the scene was sped up post-production.
Have you been on the Harry Potter studio tour? If so, get in touch to let me know which bits you and your kids enjoyed most.