Thursday, May 24, 2012

Le Monde des Moldus

une baguette magique: a wand

"To our newcomers, welcome! To our old hands, welcome back! There is a time for speech making, but this is not it."

Let us take a lesson from our dear old friend and jump right in.

So last week I went to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour about 30 minutes outside London. You're probably saying to yourself, "Wow, that sounds like my dream last night." Well, you would be dead on. It was by far one of the coolest things I've done on this exchange.

Basically, it's a tour of the studio where all 8 Harry Potter films were made--consisting of various sets, props, costumes, and characters, all combined to create a truly unique experience.

Now, it wasn't too expensive, but I intended to get my money's worth. The guides said it took the average person about 3 hours to complete the whole tour. Friends, I was there for 6.5 hours. And in the end, I was "kicked out." In all honesty, I could have been there for 9. It was in the realm of possibility.

You see, the way it worked was there were 5 or 6 different "segments," and once you had moved on to a new one you were banned from going back. That's why it took me so long. I would think "No, you know what, I'm not done with this yet. I really should stare at this for 20 more minutes." I call this the Rotating-Stuffed-Animal Effect. See, when I was little, I had about 9 billion stuffed animals, give or take a few.

Apologies for the creepy Coraline eyes.

Everything about this scenario was amazing, until it came time for bed. You see, 9 billion companions is just excessive when you're trying to sleep. So my brilliant solution was to put the stuffed animals on a strict rotating schedule, so none ever felt left out.

And that principle applies here as well. I didn't want to leave a room until I was sure I'd maximized its entertainment potential. Because . . . you know, if I forgot something . . . I'd feel bad . . . for the room. Shut up, it's logical.

So I took my time. So much of my time, in fact, that my audio guide died before I reached the end. Which was a shame. They really should look into getting a stronger battery.

Now, I suppose this post would probably work best as a photo montage of sorts. Let's get to it.

It was quite the little journey to get to this fantastic attraction. I took a few metros then an above-ground train into unknown and personally uncharted territory to find a coach service that I was convinced didn't exist, and if it did I was sure I wouldn't find it. As will soon be obvious, I didn't have to look very hard.

Left: the world's most obvious bus, Right: the pearly gates

I'd arrived. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. If it hadn't had "Harry Potter" stamped across the front of it I would have passed right by thinking "That is a strange creepy warehouse in the middle of this field. I bet a lot of murdering happens there." And I would have been on my way. But thankfully for us, it did have the "Harry Potter" seal of approval, so I stopped off for a look-see.

After receiving my audio guide and complementary souvenir guidebook, I was mere steps away from one of the coolest moviegoer experiences I'll ever have. (Well, until Salzburg, but we'll get to that later.)

I will be giving away some secrets in this post. I don't think it's worth calling this disclaimer a "spoiler alert," but I'm giving you fair warning. If you don't want to see how the invisibility cloak worked or know how they made Hagrid look so big, maybe skip on to the next post. There's also the possibility that it might be a little less humorous than you may be hoping. It's just that I take my nerdy Harry Potter infatuation very seriously. There is a time for jokes, and there is a time for learning really awesome stuff. This will be a post full of wonderful interesting things. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. Now, where was I . . .

Ah yes.

Part 1: the Great Hall . . .

Did you know: the director of the first 2 films, Chris Columbus, encouraged the student actors to carve things into the tables. Not only did it help pass the time, but it authenticated the set. "It's like a real school!"

Did you know: as is probably obvious, the ceiling of the Great Hall is computer-generated. But for the first film, the floating candles weren't. Individual candle-shaped tubes containing spirit oil were suspended by wires which were later digitally removed. Unfortunately, the heat from the flames burnt through the wires and the "candles" fell onto the tables. So no more of that. Spontaneously combusting students shouldn't be something you have to worry about.

Part 2: The large warehouse space . . .

Yule Ball costumes and decorations

Did you know: they actually covered the real great hall with silver decorations for the Yule Ball scene. 90 decorators. It took over a month.

Left: all the famous wands, Right: the Mirror of Erised (and me!)

Did you know: the wands were initially bejeweled and fancy, but J.K. Rowling wanted simple wooden wands that complemented their owners. Because she is fantastic.

It was strange seeing the sets in real life because they were SO much tinier than I imagined. I suppose it's camera angles and such. Even looking at the pictures I took makes the spaces look larger than they did in real life. Odd. I guess that's movie magic for ya. Also I've heard the camera adds 10 square feet.

Left: Gryffindor boy's dormitory, Right: Gryffindor common room

Did you know: the boys dormitory pictured on the left above was the same set used for all the films. Even the beds. The actors eventually had to curl up to keep their legs and feet from hanging over the ends during shooting.

Did you know: that furnace-looking thing in the foreground was used on the set of Chocolat prior to the first HP film.

Left: Invisibility Cloak, Right: Leaky Cauldron

Did you know: that chair at the end of the hall is about 8" tall. Forced perspective!

Um. That clock thing.

Props that are already labeled for your pleasure and my convenience.

More props!

Left: Dumbledore's office, Right: cabinet of individually-labeled memory vials

Did you know: the set of Dumbledore's office was cleared out and used as the astronomy tower.

Did you know: the old books lining the walls of his office were actually just glorified British phone books covered in leather.

Did you know: that telescope in the back was one of the most expensive pieces ever created for the series, and you only ever see it in the background. That seems appropriate.

Did you know: just out of frame in the left photo is an uncomfortable Richard Harris Dumbledore creeping in the background from behind a column. It is not okay.

Left: Potions classroom, Right: Hagrid's hut

Did you know: of the hundreds of bottles lining the walls of the Potions classroom, some contained baked animal bones from a local butcher shop, some herbs and planty stuff, others strange things in goop.

Did you know: to make Hagrid appear much larger than the children, they built 2 different sets for his hut. One set was made smaller to make Hagrid appear larger, and one set was made larger to make the children appear smaller.

Bellatrix's vault door: it actually moves!
(the Chamber of Secrets snake door was also real)
(so is magic)

Left: the Burrow (my favorite), Right: Umbridge's office

Did you know: mechanisms in the burrow like the self-cleaning pot, the knitting needles, the iron, and the knife that cuts by itself, actually moved and worked without the help of CGI!

Did you know: the construction crew pushed and pulled support beams and wall units out of place with chains after the Burrow set was constructed to give it an off-kilter, crooked, Weasley-made look. (ie. there are no right angles)

Did you know: the Burrow is awesome.

Did you know: they had a kitty photo shoot for the decorative plates on Umbridge's walls. They got all the kittens from a shelter, photographed them in clothes, and then families came and adopted them. That is maybe the most precious thing in my entire blog.

Left: Magic is Might statue, Right: Death Eater costumes (also Voldemort. meh.)

Did you know: the Magic is Might statue was carved out of foam and then painted. (I assume styrofoam. Not Nicole Kidman coffee foam. Did you know she likes to order foam from Starbucks? A cup of foam. Hollywood changes people.)

Did you know: Ralph Fiennes' nose was digitally removed and replaced with Voldemort's characteristic face slits. It wasn't just smushed down, as I was previously convinced.

Left: The Quibbler, Right: the Daily Prophet

Did you know: the Graphics Department created 40 editions of the Daily Prophet and over 25,000 pages of The Quibbler with unique stories and headlines and puzzles just like a real newspaper. Why? I have no freaking clue.

Left: the Marauder's Map, Right: U-No-Poo

Part 3: The Backlot . . .

The Knight Bus!

Did you know: the Knight Bus was created using parts from three vintage London double-deckers. Ooooh my god! It's a double-decker! It almost looks like a triple-decker!

Did you know: some streets in London do not accommodate triple-decker buses because that is an outrageous request, so the movie people had to map out a route for the 22-foot monster to travel safely around the city.

Left: Number 4 Privet Drive, Right: the Riddle family gravestone

Did you know: Both of these were based on real places. That's called inspiration and probably shouldn't surprise you.

Left: Godric's Hollow (Potter's house), Right: Hogwart's bridge

Did you know: this little segment of the bridge was the only part that was actually built. The rest was computer animated.

Op ed: though this bridge is kinda cool and provides for some interesting scenes in the movies, I can't help but feel a little jaded that it has become an iconic piece of Hogwarts. Since, you know, it is literarily nonexistent. A part of me accepts that it's Hollywood. It's Warner Brothers. Get over it. But that huge nerd chunk that I hold where my muscles should be desperately wants to attack somebody with "Terabithia called! She wants her bridge back!" But I show restraint.

Giant Queen wizard's chess piece
(some of these guys were mechanized to move as well)

Part 4: The Creature Shop . . .

Left: terrifying merlady face, Right: gaggles of goblins

Left: Basilisk skeleton, Right: Aragog

Did you know: though all the other spiders in the second film were CGI, because Aragog is relatively stationary the film team actually created the giant spider and operated him on set. He was 18-feet long, covered in yak hair, and required nearly 100 technicians to operate. Such a diva.

Left: creepy Hagrid head, Right: BUCKBEAK :D

Did you know: another way they made Hagrid look larger was by putting this creepy head on a 7-foot tall man (not Robbie Coltrane) dressed as Hagrid. It moves too. Because it's terrifying.

Did you know: they built 3 life-size Buckbeaks (one sitting, one standing, and one rearing). They all move. And I want to cuddle with them.

Part 5: Diagon Alley . . .

Well . . . there it is.

Did you know: many parts of Diagon Alley were redressed and used in the village of Hogsmeade.

Did you know: Ollivander's Wand Shop was stocked with over 17,000 individually labeled wand boxes. You might be asking yourself "Why would that ever be necessary?" Then I will scare you by reading your thoughts and responding "Excess = Success. Idiot."

Did you notice: that it looks nothing like in the first movie.

Left: Gringotts Bank, Right: Weasley Wizard Wheezes

Part 6: Artistic adaptation . . .


Okay, so the production crew also made these tiny models of the sets from the films as guides for the larger creations. Amy and Michael, I thought you might appreciate them for their architectural whooziwhatzits. Everyone else, I thought you might appreciate them because they are adorable.

Left: the Burrow, Right: Ollivander's Wand Shop

Part 7: The Hogwarts Castle . . .

Bum bum bum buuuum!!!!

Did you know: this 1:24 scale model of the Hogwarts Castle was hand-sculpted by a team of 86 artists and crewmembers using miniature yet identical versions of the real courtyards and scenery from Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral where scenes from the film were shot.

Did you know: real gravel was used to recreate rockwork and boulders, and real plants for landscaping and trees.

Did you know: more than 300 fiber optic lights were used to give the illusion of torches and lanterns flickering within the castle.

Did you know: the filmmakers would get swooping shots of the castle model and digitally mix it with the Scotland backdrop to create beautiful panoramas and painfully realistic dragon chase scenes.


And this is where I leave you. But I will end with this:

When they started working on the first film, the director asked Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson to write what they imagined to be an autobiography of their characters' lives up to the present. Daniel came in with a very detailed, very insightful essay (approx. 15 pages). Emma came back with a very Hermione-esque paper (approx. 50 pages), also very detailed and insightful. Rupert, however, returned with nothing and was heavily criticized for not taking the process seriously.

"I am taking it seriously. I don't think Ron would finish it."

And that is why Ron is the best.

Amitiés :)

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