You can go to London without visiting the Warner Bros. studio, where cast and crew brought J.K. Rowling’s expansive magical world to the screen. But if you’re a “Harry Potter” fan, you really shouldn’t.
HuffPost had the pleasure of touring the corners of Hogwarts and beyond that have been carefully set up for fans to lovingly gaze at, obsessively photograph, and even consume ― the Butterbeer is delicious ― in Leavesden, England.
Awash in “Harry Potter” nostalgia, we walked through the Great Hall, where professors McGonagall and Snape stand at attention on either side of Dumbledore. We peered into the surprisingly compact Gryffindor common room and brushed by the magnificent Fat Lady, sans password. We saw Harry’s Hogwarts acceptance letters strung up to cloud the Dursleys’ living room with a flurry of paper whizzing motionless out of the fireplace. We nipped into the Hogwarts Express, where cars representing Harry, Ron and Hermione’s many years of rides are littered with candy wrappers, books and copies of the Quibbler. We admired a wall of newspapers, envelopes, cereal boxes and every other array of printed prop, all blessed with the wizarding world’s unique typography that screams in block letters at one turn and appears calmly serifed at another. We passed the Knight Bus and the infamously well-manicured Privet Drive. We forgot our Put-Outer, so the street remained illuminated.
In a new section of the studio, we witnessed the Whomping Willow in destructive action and strolled along a trail through a forest full of meticulously handcrafted trees that obscure one special hippogriff and too many arachnids. And that’s not even half of all we saw.
Among the many bits and bobs along the way, we picked up some trivia on the “Harry Potter” film series. Our list doesn’t give away everything to be discovered on a visit, and certainly can’t replicate the whimsical wizarding atmosphere culled from the thoughtful work of prop developers and costumers over 10 years of filming. Nevertheless, we’ve shared a few pieces of knowledge below.
1. Some of the Hogwarts castle portraits actually depict muggles.
Although the depth and breadth of Rowling’s wizarding world could surely have produced enough famous magical faces to fill the halls of Hogwarts ― the set included nearly 350 enchanted portraits ― producers allowed many of the film’s crew to pose for portraits to fill in the gaps. On view, for the sharp-sighted, are Barry Wilkinson the prop master, David Heyman the producer and Stuart Craig the production designer, among others. All look as if they know just the precise way to inflect “leviosa.”
2. There’s a picture of a young Professor McGonagall hanging in the Gryffindor common room.
Her dark hair is greying, and she displays a very prim expression, gazing slightly down her nose at the painter, but the witch pictured bears only a slight resemblance to Dame Maggie Smith. Or the witch described in the book, with her affinity for emerald green and tartan robes; this McGonagall is in blue, with a gold pendant around her neck. (Yes, you’ll have to make a visit to see her.)
3. Some of the potions ingredients in Snape’s classroom are actually zoo souvenirs.
Professor Snape is a closet fan of muggle zoos, it seems. Among the more than 500 of bottles stashed along the walls of the dungeon classroom, some with handwritten labels, are plastic animals from the shop at the zoo in London’s Regent’s Park. That’s a significantly cuter way to illustrate pickled animals, like the ones the dungeon is meant to house, than some of the other things in those jars ― namely, baked animal bones from a nearby butcher.
4. 15,000 glowing prophecy orbs were trashed because director David Yates changed his mind.
Well, not trashed, exactly ― you can see them displayed on the tour. The dusty glass orbs were created to illustrate the Ministry of Magic’s luminescent Hall of Prophecy that contained records of foretold events, including the prophecy made by Professor Trelawney about a child with the power to defeat Voldemort. The props weren’t used in the film, though, because Yates ― who directed “The Order of the Phoenix,” “The Half-Blood Prince” and both “Deathly Hallows” installments ― decided to use CGI to create them. They might’ve been destroyed anyway in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, but imagine being those prop designers.
5. In certain scenes, Hagrid’s head is fake.
One of the more eerie behind-the-scenes revelations is seeing the bodiless head of Hagrid ― complete with artful wrinkles, rosy veins and individual eyebrow hairs ― that the prop department made for tall stunt doubles portraying him in action scenes and wide shots. Filmmakers used this and many other tricks to make the lovable half-giant appear so much larger than life: Another had Robbie Coltrane, who is only 6-foot-1, seated at a split-level table, one higher and nearer the camera and one lower and further away, to achieve a forced perspective effect that made the actor appear huge across from his companion. You can try it out for yourself on the tour ― photos encouraged.
Tickets can be found on the “Harry Potter” Warner Bros. Studio Tour website.
From June 1 to 30, HuffPost is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the very first “Harry Potter” book by reminiscing about all things Hogwarts. Accio childhood memories.