After the huge success of the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, it was merely a question of time until the young magician’s magic would spread to other locations. Along with previously announced expansion at Universal Studios Florida and new magical theme areas at affiliated parks in Hollywood and Osaka, London also quickly staked its claim. To the delight of British Potter fans, the fully-titled “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter” attraction has now opened in north London.
The attraction was planned by California company Thinkwell. It is located on the site of Leavesden Studios where the eight Harry Potter films were shot, as such paying tribute to the movies at their birthplace. Craig Hanna, CCO at Thinkwell, and his team quickly grasped that the real value of this attraction would lie in the authenticity of its exhibits and in the magic and unique character of the artworks that were created for the series of films. The company subsequently took the design approach of focusing on this artwork and presenting it in true-to-life form to the greatest possible extent. Whereas in Florida artificial environments were constructed based on the movies, the London attraction displays the original scenery, costumes and props.
Visitors for the studio tour have to purchase their tickets online in advance for a specific day and time, as no tickets are sold on-site. The tour begins initially in a group that stays together for the first three rooms. Afterwards, visitors can take their own pace through the exhibition. The pre-show room already clarifies the importance of the exhibition’s authenticity, featuring screens where the main characters of the movies as well as many members of the film crew talk about the experience of shooting the Potter movies, a common feature running throughout the entire tour.
Following the pre-show, an introductory film ending at the gates of the Great Hall is shown in an adjacent cinema. Just when visitors think it’s time to leave through side exits, the screen rises up and disappears, revealing the real entrance to the actual Great Hall – the first truly magic moment. The gates open and visitors are astonished to enter one of the most impressive sets of the tour. The Hogwarts banquet room is displayed in its entirety, except for the roof framework. The tables are set, apparently only waiting for pupils to arrive. Mannequins throughout the room bear the uniforms of the school’s houses and the faculty, and are quickly recognized by dedicated Potter fans.
Smaller sets and thematic groups follow in a larger exhibition hall, giving vistors a deeper insight into the costume wardrobe and make-up area, with set designers displaying the props that really bring the scenes to life. Another part of the exhibition displays the varied work of the graphic designers who have created thousands of newspaper pages, books and packaging materials. Most of the stations have guides to answer fans’ questions and who also voluntarily reveal anecdotes and trivia about the various objects.
Although the overall impression is of a classic museum experience, a number of sets break with this tradition and blur the borders between real world and the Potter film settings with effects that have been installed. One such effect is the magic potion pot that glows at regular intervals in Prof. Snape’s cellar vaults.
A highlight for many children and adventurous adults is certain to a be a ride on a Quidditch broom! The ride has the wind blowing through the rider’s hair before a camera and a green screen with a view on a monitor of the live experience of a flight over Hogwarts and London. Riders can pick up a souvenir photo of the flight in the next room, but regrettably not a film of the entire flight sequence.
Afterwards, visitors enter the interior courtyard between the two studio halls to see exterior sets such as the wind-battered bridge to Hogwarts. Here, thirsty Potter fans can get a taste of the coveted butterbeer from a vending container on the site, but only in plastic cups, not in a mug; far less magical and appetizing in the sparse interior courtyard than the freshly tapped butterbeer available at Wizarding World in Orlando.
In the second indoor rection, visitors enter the Creature Shop where all of the magical creatures conceived of by the author are on display. Virtually everything is here, from the mask shelf full of elf heads to the head of the fire-breathing dragon. Large projections display actors and artists explaining the work of the special effects experts in a very entertaining manner. Tables full of electronics and half-covered robots underscore the workshop character of these rooms.
The tour’s second largest set is Diagon Alley, the famous London street where Harry Potter picked up his magical tools before his first visit to Hogwarts. A raised footpath keeping the “Muggle” guests at arm’s length from the set gives them a peek inside the numerous shops on the street, all finished in loving detail.
The final section of the tour is dedicated to a theme that is an integral part of the film production long before the first day of shooting: the Art Department. Its walls are covered with the conceptual drawings, sketches and architectural blueprints from the films. Numerous papier-mâché models show the progressive development of the enchanting architecture. This exhibit is nevertheless only a small taster in anticipation of the large model that follows at the conclusion of the tour: An entire room is filled with a realistic 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts and its surroundings.
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