As one of the most successful film franchises of all time, the Harry Potter film series brought in $7.7 billion worldwide at the box office. Based off of J. K. Rowling’s equally successful book series, fans were thrilled to see each book come to life on the silver screen. Not only did the films create huge stars out of its young cast, but it also opened the door to even more questions about the magical world of Harry Potter.
Due to the overwhelming love of the books, films, and characters; a variety of attractions came from the incredible intrigue of Harry Potter. The Harry Potter Studio Tour, which opened just outside of Central London in 2012, was a huge success, and granted fans an in-depth look at some of the favorite features of the Harry Potter films. From Harry’s cupboard beneath the stairs to The Great Hall, fans even got to sit on a broom in front of a green screen to take a photo of themselves flying like in the film. Universal Studios also took advantage of the incredible Harry Potter fanbase by building The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction that continues to bring in millions of fans each year. Yet, even with all these attractions combined, Potter fanatics still can’t seem to get enough.
Fans wanted to know every detail about how the films were made, and the secrets in creating all the magical special effects. Check out our list of 15 little known filming secrets on the set of Harry Potter, and see how the filmmakers were able to truly bring the story to life.
15. Food Wasn’t Real
The Harry Potter films always seemed to incorporate food in some magical way, with each dish looking mouth-wateringly delicious. While all of the films ensured audiences got a big dose of magic, it was the earlier films that had a bigger focus on the food. Since the film series opened with the children entering their first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, food was a huge part of the appeal of the school (especially the treats). The Start-of-Term Feast shown in the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, seemed amazing to the students and viewers alike. Everything seemed so delicious, and the same can be said about the dessert-covered tables in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Yet, a little known secret about the food was that the majority wasn’t even real food. Made from painted resin or wax, the food wasn’t actually edible. There were a few items that were cooked, like the items that the actors could be seen eating and a variety of the other dishes; so, it can be fun to try and see which items were real.
14. Jelly Belly-Inspired Or Film-Inspired?
Since even the painted figures in the portraits are magical in the Harry Potter world, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the candy has its own mystical features. While the chocolate frog would be pretty nifty with its hopping powers, the vomit-flavored jelly beans don’t exactly sound very appealing. Bertie Bott was the candy inventor that recognized the appeal in producing a treat that featured “a risk with every mouthful,” and thus the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean was created. Harry Potter tried his luck in the first film, as Ron was rattling off some of the many different flavors. As he popped a green one in his mouth, he wound up spitting it out after just a few chews. Even before the first film hit the theaters, Jelly Belly has come out with specialty flavors that were far from the norm. Yet, after the films, Jelly Belly released the Harry Potter Bernie Bott’s flavors. Some of the more interesting flavors include rotten egg, grass, dirt, and booger.
13. Low Budget Props?
Based off the 7-book Harry Potter book series, the eight film adaptation brought in an astounding $7.7 billion worldwide at the box office. To put this into perspective, The Lord of the Rings films were also considered a box office smash, but only brought in $2.91 billion. Obviously the films cost millions to make, and presumably a huge part of the production budget went towards the special effects. Yet, towards the end of the film series, it would seem that there would be at least a little left over in the budget to update some of their props. When Harry Potter and the gang were first seen in their dorm rooms at Hogwarts, the beds were an appropriate length for their small stature. With each new film, the dorm rooms were updated to include a more personalized look for the aging characters. Sports poster and pennants were added here and there, but production never updated their beds. Towards the end of the film series, actors had to curl themselves up in order to seem like they still fit into their beds. With all that money the films were making, it seems strange that they couldn’t afford a few larger beds.
12. Attention To Detail In Dumbledore’s Office
As the wielder of the Elder Wand for decades, Albus Dumbledore is the wizard Harry Potter claimed was, “the greatest sorcerer in the world!” So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that production would put an immense amount of detail into Dumbledore’s office. Filled with hand-labeled vials, magical contraptions, and even a Phoenix perch, the attention to detail was extraordinary. Yet, it was the books that should have received the most acclaim. With hundreds of books lining the bookcases reaching all the way up to the vaulted ceiling, many would assume that they were fake props giving the illusion of books standing side-by-side. However, the books were actually designed by producers, who used real British phone books encased in a leather binding. The detail provided for each leather binding, and the fact that they used hundreds of these phone books is a fun little factoid when rewatching any of the films.
11. What’s In Snape’s Vials?
In March 2012, The Harry Potter Studio Tour allowed fans to see inside the world of Harry Potter in an up-close way that not many have seen before. Full sets were open to viewing, including real costumes worn by mannequins to enhance the feeling of being on the production floor. One of the more interesting portions of the tour included Professor Snape’s potions class. The giant vials that lined the shelves were filled with all the things one might expect in a “potions class.” While fans of the film series would undoubtedly hope that there was some rhyme or reason behind each of the vial contents, unfortunately the set production team aren’t real wizards. Instead, they had to settle for the next best thing: set director, Stephenie McMillan. She sent her team out to buy the strangest items they could find to fill each vial, so many of the items are things like leftover guts from local butcher shops, tufts of hair, and Bouncing Spider Juice.
10. How Did They Film The Exterior Shots Of Hogwarts?
Some castles that have appeared onscreen are real-life locations, like the Highclere Castle that was used in the hit series, Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, there isn’t a real-life Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that you can visit and stand in front of to take a selfie. In actuality, all of the scenes involving exterior shots of the school were created with a model that only measured 50 feet across. Although the castle appears larger than life onscreen, it’s pretty much just a glorified doll house. Jose Granell was the model supervisor when constructing this massive undertaking, which encompassed 86 artists and crew members. There are 2,500 fibre optic lights built into the model, all the doors have their own hinges that allow them to open and close, and the time it took to construct the model would equal 75 years if it were the work of a single person. The same model was used for the entirety of this 8 film series.
9. Secrets Of Creating Hagrid
Creating a larger than life character onscreen can be a bit tricky, especially when it’s only a half-giant like Hagrid. Computer generated special effects can pretty much do all the work when it comes to a character like Wun Wun in Game of Thrones, but with Hagrid being only a half-giant, it can be difficult in portraying his extra large size when he’s so often interacting with other normal-sized characters. One trick that was used was hiring a body double, 6ft 10in tall rugby footballer, Martin Bayfield. Another trick was more on the production side, and involved building two completely different sets for Hagrid’s hut. Oftentimes, it’s easier for scenes involving extra large characters to be filmed outdoors, because of the production cost of having to build two sets and film in two separate locations. A larger version of Hagrid’s hut made Harry and his crew appear a regular size, while the smaller-sized hut made Hagrid appear much larger.
8. The Set Was A Veritable Zoo
When watching any of the Harry Potter films, viewers don’t necessarily consider it a film series containing many animals. Either the animals are overshadowed by all of the magic and mystery or the production does an amazing job at incorporating the animals into the storyline, but closer inspection shows that there are far more animals than you would expect. From the owls delivering the mail to Dolores Umbridge and her plethora of cats, it was a veritable zoo on the set on any of the Harry Potter films. Harry’s owl, alone, required 4 different owls to be trained and taught the specific moves required in the films. Hermione’s pet cat was played by 4 different cats, and Hagrid’s dog was played by 9 different Neapolitan Mastiffs. Yet, it was Ron’s pet rat that had the most stand-ins. Scabbers, the rat, was played by more than a dozen rats, making the set an interesting workplace, to say the least.
7. How Many Trees Lost Their Life For Harry Potter?
When creating the complex world of Harry Potter, it would be inevitable that there would be an immense amount of props required to bring the story to life. Each film took viewers on a journey through multiple different settings, periods of time, and magical lands. In order to distinguish each location, there needed to an immense amount of detail with all of the props. On top of the thousands of books needed to fill Dumbledore’s shelves and the 40,000 Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products required to bring Diagon Alley to life, there were seemingly an endless amount of other props used throughout the film series. There were 5,000 pieces of furniture made for the various sets, and that isn’t including the sets themselves. From Hagrid’s hut(s) to Weasley’s house, it’s amazing how much wood was needed onset. Yet, the biggest tree sacrifice came when constructing The Goblet of Fire, which was made from an entire English Elm tree that gave its life to construct this hand-carved 5ft tall goblet.
6. Watch Out For The Changing Staircases
The majority of the scenes at Hogwarts involved the Quidditch field, the dorm rooms, or The Great Hall. However, oftentimes the students are seen walking from one end of the school to the other, trying to solve whatever mystery lay before them for that particular film. While no one can say that the Harry Potter films weren’t filled to the brim with magic, but the actual school only had a few handfuls of mystical charms. There are secrets chambers, moving portraits, and an enchanted night sky, but it was the moveable staircases that truly won over young fans. It seemed exciting to think that the castle had a mind of its own, and could take you to places without your intention if you weren’t paying close enough attention. While the films made it seem like each of the staircases at Hogwarts were magical, in actuality, there was only one real staircase that the actors stood on to tape these moving scenes. A miniature model of multiple staircases was used to superimpose the moveable effect post-production.
5. What’s Real And What’s Fake At The Ministry Of Magic
As the world of Harry Potter began to expand during the latter films, production had to come up with more sets than just Potter’s cupboard under the stairs and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Creating The Ministry of Magic was a huge feat, since it needed to be a setting that exudes authority with the utmost mystical ability. The result was a facility that looked like an ultra modern government facility with all the charms of what makes the Harry Potter world magical. Obviously, no expense was spared in creating the incredibly detailed lobby. Cascading along the walls and up to the massive vaulted ceilings, the look of tiles was created by using ornately-detailed red and green wood panels. The fireplaces used for transporting visitors were each an astounding 29 feet high. Yet, the statue in the center that is made to look like a giant stone pillar crushing muggles is actually made from painted foam.
4. Diagon Alley Didn’t All Come From Harry Potter
One of the most favorite settings in the Harry Potter film series is Diagon Alley, since it seems like the one-stop-spot for all things magic. This is where the characters go to find the latest Nimbus racing broomstick or magical wand. While the setting does have characteristics based on the descriptions from the Harry Potter book series, set designers actually modeled much of it from books written by Charles Dickens as well. With that said, it becomes quite obvious when you take a deeper look into the architecture of the store fronts and even the hanging signs and lamp posts. Think of the world of Oliver Twist the next time you watch a Harry Potter film, and you might find yourself realizing the comparisons. The popularity of Diagon Alley caused the producers to continually add to the set with each new film, and Universal Orlando has done the same to their Diagon Alley attraction. Guests at Universal Studios Florida get to experience the shopping and dining firsthand, and it has been one of their most popular attractions since it first opened.
3. How Many Wands Are Enough?
The wands in the world of Harry Potter are almost as significant as the characters themselves. As Mr. Ollivander declared, “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It’s not always clear why.” Since the wands seem to have a personality and agenda all their own, it should only stand to reason that they would all have their own unique look. Not only did each character in the films have their very own custom created wands, but there were over 17,000 wand boxes at Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Each box had its own individual label, which featured thousands of different customized labels. Every person that was ever credited with a hand in working on any one of the 8 Harry Potter films has their very own wand box at Ollivander’s Wand Shop. The room housing all of the wand boxes was the last of the guided rooms at the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
2. Bringing The Characters Alive
The magical world of Harry Potter was filled with more than just witches and wizards. While the mythical creatures like the Phoenix and Hippogriff probably got the most excitement from viewers, it was the characters that truly brought the story to life. From the goblins working at Gringotts Wizarding Bank to the house-elves like Dobby, these are the characters that showed that there was a world far beyond Harry’s cupboard beneath the stairs. Bringing these characters to life involved more than just visual effects and computer-generated versions. Unlike other films that used individual facial prosthetics to create their mythical creatures, the designs department and creature shop creates full masks to be worn by the actors. Yet, it wasn’t just the facial characteristics that helped to tell the story. Some of the clothing the characters wore would change to help add dimension to the story as the films progressed. One example is how the costume department evolved the clothing for Dolores Umbridge, so that as her character became more evil in the films, her clothing got more and more pink.
1. The Magic Behind The Moving Pictures
The paintings and photographs in the world of Harry Potter are more than just a captured moment in time. According to the book series, written by J. K. Rowling, portraits contain an enchantment that allows them to imitate the demeanor of the subject, as well as move from one painting to another. This is how the cats in the office of Dolores Umbridge can act as spies, and the paintings at Hogwarts can interact with the students. One interesting tidbit about Umbridge’s cats is that they were actually photographs from cats at a local shelter that were superimposed post-production. Also, many of the paintings at Hogwarts were of the film’s producers, and are a mix between actual paintings and green screen portrayals to create the movement seen in the films. It’s interesting that the producers had the foresight to immortalize themselves within the background shots of the films, but they didn’t get the same treatment when Universal Studios began recreating the moving portraits for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Castle.
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