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The UK's Answer To the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

PopWrapped | PopWrapped Author


03/06/2013 12:57 pm
The UK's Answer To the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Clare Sidoti

Staff Writer

We might not have the roller coasters and rides that Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but we have something much, much better… the REAL Hogwarts, the REAL Diagon Alley and many other Harry Potter places all can be seen and experienced at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter just outside London.

The Studio Tour has been open for just under a year. Located over two sound stages at Leavesden Studios (aptly named ‘J’ and ‘K’ sound stage) and a small backlot area between the two, the Studio Tour takes witches, wizards and even muggles of all ages through the various sets, costumes, props and memorabilia used in all 8 films. The easiest and, in my opinion, the best way to get there is by public transport. An easy 30 minute train from London’s Euston Station, the Studio Tour shuttle bus meets you at Watford Junction for the short journey to Leavesden. Once you hop off the bus you’re greeted with giant posters from the movies adorning the two sound stages. A little to the right stand three of the chess pieces from the Philosopher’s Stone. The excitement builds.

 On entering ‘J’ you are surrounded by huge head shot posters of the characters around the top of the walls of the lobby area. You forget just how young the kids were when they first started work on the films over a decade ago and these posters provide a visual of how they grew with the films. To the right are handprints of the Golden Trio (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) and the Weasley’s Flying Ford Anglia is suspended above the ground. There are other bits and bobs scattered around the place giving you a taste of what to expect inside.

 Making your way to the start of the tour, you pass by Harry’s cupboard under the stairs and are finally met by one of the guides. Following a few short introductions about the site (one from a guide and another a great little film with Radcliffe, Grint and Watson welcoming you to their ‘home’ for 10 years and sharing some experiences from the set), you push through two gigantic doors and the Great Hall is before you. So begins the amazing adventure of the 10 years that the Harry Potter story came to life on these very sound stages.

 The tour is set out really well and flows nicely and smoothly. It is divided into roughly six distinct sections. The first deals with the directors, bringing the books to the screen, costumes, hair and make up and touches on a bit of set dressing. The second is the actual physical sets all ready as if the cast and crew have just left and gone to shoot somewhere else. The third is the backlot where the bigger set pieces reside. The fourth is Creature Shop: special effects, wigs, and prosthetics. The fifth is Diagon Alley. The sixth and last section is the models.

 Once you leave the Great Hall, the rest of the visit is self guided. Each station has a short video which includes interviews with key cast and crew explaining the station, how the items appeared in the film(s) along with a snippet of what it looked like in the final product. If you get an audio guide (which I highly recommend as none other than Draco Malfoy himself, Tom Felton, provides the commentary) there are additional short interviews and clips that accompany each station and provide more in depth information about the station along with anecdotes from filming.

 According to the website, an average visit is generally three and a half hours. However, there’s no limit on how long you’re allowed to stay (until it hits closing time). Given that entry is time ticketed, the stations are very rarely crowded and you’re able to spend as much or as little time at each station as you choose. Apart from in the Great Hall, at no time did I feel like I was being shepherded through the exhibition or had a feeling of being forced to move on with the crowd, which is one of my pet peeves when going to exhibitions, especially about something I’m really interested in. In fact, there was really only one occasion where I had to wait to be able to go up to an exhibit and have a good look around (the boy’s Gryffindor dorm) and that was due largely to the fact that the set is so small so only a handful of people can see it at a time. Our tour started at 5pm and we were back on the shuttle bus at around 7.45pm. However, we didn’t eat at the Studio and it was one of the January weekends where London was inundated with snow and freezing cold so we kind of rushed through the backlot (it was about 6.30pm) – sculling our Butterbeers and running around the exhibits there. Plus we didn’t spend too long in the shop… trying to ward off temptation – believe me there is plenty.

 Highlights for me included (in order that they appear around the tour):


The Great Hall.

The first truly breathtaking moment of the tour. The set is spectacular and so detailed. So much happens in here over the 8 films and depending on the time of year you visit, they have it suitably decorated (we just missed the Christmas theme). The Great Hall combines so much of what is so special about the tour: you have the actual working set that you get to explore, costumes that the actors actually wore and props from the films. While seeing the cupboard under the stairs and the introduction film by the Golden Trio were fantastic, this was the moment that you felt the magic really start and thought ‘yep I’m at Hogwarts. I’m in Harry Potter’.


Gryffindor Boy’s Dormitory

. This was surprisingly a small set and can just imagine how crapped and hot it would have been filming in it. The attention to detail was amazing: each boy’s bed and area was decorated according to their tastes and personality like the posters of Ron’s favourite team, the Chudley Cannons. I loved seeing the size of the beds which were built during the first film and didn’t change so by the last few films, the boys had to curl up in bed otherwise they wouldn’t fit.


Gryffindor Common Room

. A place I have wished to visit many times. This was actually bigger than I expected and just looked so warm and welcoming. Again lots of nice little touches that add character to the set including Harry’s Golden Egg from Goblet of Fire and his invisibility cloak.


Dumbledore’s Office.

This is huge and so detailed. There is so much to see and find in here – look out especially for the Sword of Gryffindor (though that was quite easy to spot) and the sorting hat.


The Potions Classroom.

Again a much bigger set than I anticipated and very differently shaped to how I imagined – it is basically a long rectangular shaped space. It’s very cool to control the mixing of potions and seeing all the various ingredients you can add.


The Weasley’s Kitchen.

This was as cute and as loveable as the Weasley family themselves. Like with the Potions Classroom you are able to manipulate items so they work like magic – favourites were the ironing and the washing up. However, seeing the Weasley family clock with all of their names on it was a definite highlight.


Props and the Glass Noticeboard.

While the props are scattered throughout the tour on the sets and at various stations, there is one small section that is solely devoted to props. However, I’m going to rave about the props in general. You get to see the first Golden Snitch Harry caught, and all the wands used by the major characters are on display, as is the Wizard Cup, Harry’s Nimbus 2000 and Firebolt, the street sign to Hogsmeade, Hermione’s time turner and all of the Horcruxes. The other thing I loved was a massive glass noticeboard just before you head out of the ‘J’ sound stage onto the backlot. This contains a number of the paperbased items from the films: Wanted posters, copies of the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler, Harry’s acceptance letter to Hogwarts, tickets to Platform 93/4 and lolly wrappers among others.


The Backlot

. Though it was deathly freezing and very snow covered, the backlot was amazing. Here you can find 4 Privet Drive as well as a few houses next to it, the Knight bus, another Ford Anglia, Hagrid’s motorbike, the Riddle Family Gravestone, the Potter’s house in Godric Hollow, chess pieces from the Philosopher’s Stone and the Hogwarts bridge. Not only do you get to see these lifesize sets and props (plus get your photo taken on the Knight bus, on Hagrid’s motorbike and in the Weasley’s car) but this is the place to go to sample a frothy Butterbeer (tastes kind of like a butterscotch ice cream float and so delicious).


Diagon Alley

. It’s real and it’s fantastic – the only real problem is that it’s only store fronts. You get to wander down the street and follow in the footsteps of Harry, Ron and Hermione. You pass by the Daily Prophet offices, Gringotts, Flourish and Botts, Ollivander’s and many more iconic stores. Easily the crowd favourite and located about ¾ of the way up the street is Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (prepare to have a short wait for a photo in front of this store).


The Hogwarts Castle model

. This truly has to be seen to be believed. The entire Hogwarts Castle is there. You get a 360 view of the spectacular hand-sculpted 1:24 scale model. It literally takes your breath away when you first encounter it. This was first built for the Philosopher’s Stone and then underwent further additions and amends as it grew with each subsequent film. The model was used for aerial photography in the films as well as digitally scanned for CGI. I am just thankful that this wasn’t physically used in the Hogwarts battle scenes in Deathly Hallows II. And considering it took 86 artists and crew members to construct just the first version of the castle and if you totally up all the man hours involved in work on it over the 10 years it would add up to over 74 years, they probably all breathed a sigh of relief that it’s preserved in tact for us all to enjoy for years to come.


The Wand Room

. This is the very end of the tour (well before the amazing shop) and contains a room set up like the inside of Ollivander’s with hand-made wand boxes stacked up floor to ceiling. However, these aren’t just any wands. Written on the wand boxes are the names of every cast and crew member that worked on a Harry Potter film (all 17,000 of them). Luckily there are a number of Studio Tour staff around who can point you in the right direction of any particular wand you want (apart from the obvious ones I needed to see Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh and JK Rowling).

Check out some photos of what you’ll see:

The Warner Bros Studio Tour  - The Making of Harry Potter is open 7 days a week, and is open all year round apart from Christmas Day (Dec 25) and Boxing Day (Dec 26). For information about the Tour and to purchase tickets visit the official website at Tickets are currently £29.00 for over 16’s, £21.50 for 5-15 year olds and £85.00 for a family ticket. (COMING SOON!) (COMING SOON!)

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