When we visited London three years ago with my young friend and her mother (a trip we still speak of often), we joined a Harry Potter walking tour and saw places where the movie was filmed and sites “that probably inspired J.K. Rowling.”
But Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour “The Making of Harry Potter” wasn’t yet open. My young friend would have loved it – not just because she grew up reading Harry Potter, but because it is all about the work of clever and creative people.
Reaching the studio requires a long ride from London on a bus dressed up to suggest the night bus. I felt a little sheepish climbing aboard – wishing we had in tow all sorts of fans: my young friend and her mother, my niece’s best friend, Mrs. Hughes who loved those books, and my painter friend’s grandson for starters.
But the sweet bride was there, and very excited, having read all the books in Thai, in Thailand. (Thinking about that makes me pause in awe of J.K. Rowling – of how she created a whole imaginary world to enchant countless children all over the real world.)
The actual sound stage, a warehouse-like complex where the movies were filmed, now welcomes masses of visitors. The ticket line snakes below larger-than-lifesized photos of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the others at various ages.
The cavernous space contains the enchanting sets, complex and detailed in person – Hogwort’s Apothecary Department, Hagrid’s Hut, and Daigon Alley (where you could walk). In the Gryffindor Common Room, comfy red couches and plenty of cushions, a beautiful room-sized rug, good lighting, and an enormous fireplace with inglenook seemed a great place to be with your friends, and worlds apart from the sad, bleak set depicting Harry’s bed under the stairs at the Dursley house – electrical junction box and bare, dangling light bulb. (Our younger son commented that it resembled the small bedroom in our flat.)
We were there in December, and snow fell as we circled around the enormous model used for filming Hogwarts Castle. In the Great Hall we walked among decorated tables piled high with dishes for a Christmas feast. In the boy’s dormitory, a red garland wound around Ron’s bed with its coverlet of colorful knitted squares and worn velvet curtains.
Descriptions of how moviemakers achieved effects accompanied each set – books and furniture distressed to look worn (fat London phone books became ancient volumes, apothecary potion bottles labeled by hand), intricate costumes designed and made – we learned how artists and crafts people used models and mocks ups in their creative process. The scale model of The Owlery intrigued me, a little line drawing depicting each individual owl.
But the best part might be the stories and videos about the animal actors and their trainers. “Four talented Red Persian cats – Crackerjack, Oliver, Bo Bo, and Prince” – played Hermione’s mangy cat Crookshanks. The Animal Department attached little fur mats with hair clips to make them appear more unkempt. (Lord Wolsey might have played Crookshanks – without effort he inhabits the part.)
Near the Dursley house on an outdoor street set, we sampled “butter beer” beside the real night bus. I bought a Gryffindor House scarf for my painter friend’s grandson for his seventh birthday (and was rewarded later by a video of him, wearing Potter glasses and gown, twirling with wand in hand as though to take off).
Having walked and gawked till exhausted, we each fell asleep on our night bus going back to London.
All that creativity – Rowling’s words, the actors, the behind the scenes people – magic.