The Wizarding World of Harry Potter now exists in THREE different locations around the world. The newest location at Universal Studios Hollywood is set to officially debut April 7 and the daunting task of bringing to life a world of fire-breathing dragons, enchanted shops and eateries, and magical mischeif is no small feat, even if third time’s a charm.
With a wealth of learnings from the Wizarding Worlds that have been built in Orlando and Osaka, plus the Potter “sequel” land of Diagon Alley at Island’s of Adventure, Universal’s creative team was well armed to continue to improve upon the concept of materializing a magical world. However, bringing it all to life a third time didn’t necessarily make the task any easier as we learned during a media tour of the new land with Supervising Art Director Alan Gilmore.
We quickly found out that there was quite a bit of nuance and detail that went into bringing to life the Hollywood version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter…
New Never Looked So Dirty!
Anyone who has traveled through any of the Wizarding World creations would hardly call believablilty into question and yet for the Hollywood location, Gilmore and team took to the task of finding ways to make everything feel even more alive, more lived-in, more real.
With great pride, Gilmore pointed to several instances of grimy walls, greasy windows, rusty mirrors, and mossy stone walls that feel like they have not been maintained in years. And yet… less than a year ago the entire area was a maze of dirt, rock and vertical metal construction.
At The Three Broomsticks restaurant–the oldest building in the village–the walls are literally dripping with detail. Weathered wood, worn irons, and rusty joints all help sell the idea of age. A white seemingly powdery substance coats the walls, a detail not uncommon in ancient buildings with lime plaster. The signature look manifests after decades of contact with misty wet air like that of the Scottish Highlands. It all comes together to paint the picture.
A unique force that challenged the design of the entire land in Hollywood was the weather. California is generally much sunnier than the locations in Florida and Japan. The brighter more sharp sunlight required an artistically different approach to bringing the Highlands of Scotland to the San Fernando Valley.
Gilmore and team soon realized that the lighting created an intriguing and positive impact on the direction for the new land’s facades. Details would need to be punched up and enhanced; amplified to withstand the always-sunny conditions.
The entire village of Hogsmeade within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is perpetually a winter wonderland and yet So. Cal conditions would constantly challenge that trick of the eye. Every detail had to be fully believable.
Similar But Different
But the changes made to the land weren’t purely cosmetic. While Gilmore and team strived to maintain a small, intimate scale that felt “nestled into a dense world”, they found new ways to help the land move people around.
Within the shops, they tried to design more passage ways and more ways for people to move around to create a sense of exploration and discovery. An entirely new alley was also created to both help insulate the Wizarding World from external visual intrusions and also to help provide even more opportunities for immersion with more store fronts and details from the books.
One of the sleeper hits when the original Wizarding World opened in Florida was Ollivander’s Shop. To help keep up with the demand for the popular offering, the shop was relocated for Hollywood and given proper space for a covered extended queue.
One of the biggest differences with the geography in Hollywood were the beautiful mountains that surround the park and are visible throughout the land. The mountains turned out to be one of Gilmore’s favorite touches to the land as they helped create the illusion of the Scottish Highlands as seen in the actual films.
When you’re in various areas of the Wizarding World, the mountains are used as a stunning real backdrop to provide even more immersion into the story. The effect is especially effective from the green house in the queue for the Forbidden Journey attraction and in the outdoor extended queue for Ollivander’s Shop.
Windows to the Soul
Every detail in Hogsmeade was carefully considered; that included the evolution of the village itself from its earliest beginnings hundreds of years ago through the present.
When was each building created? What sorts of tools would have been available during that time? What architectural details would have been appropriate? All these details influenced the nuance between each of the buildings and if you know what you’re looking for it’s quite easy to spot.
Windows, for instance are a good indicator of age in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Research into window styles over the ages helped influence the design of each building.
At the centuries-old Three Broomsticks restaurant, the windows are quite small and are made up of even smaller panes of glass, held together with wood. Jump forward to a newer building like Honeydukes and the windows and panes of glass are significantly larger and clearer, reflecting more modern approaches to architecture.
Squeezing It All In
Many theme park fans and movie aficionados are familiar with the concept forced perspective. It’s a classic trick used often to trick the eye and create a sense of size by cheating with the scale. In films, it’s a little easier for an art director to cheat the perspective from the fixed view of the camera. In the theme park setting, however, it requires a full 360 approach.
Forced perspective was obviously used at Hogwart’s to help create the grand scale of the entire castle. The stonework at the base is larger and then the details get smaller and more finite as you reach to the top of the highest turrets.
Perhaps less noticeable is the fact that the entire land itself is one big exercise in forced perspectives. The Hogwart’s Express train at the entrance along with the first buildings including Zonko’s and Honeydukes are designed at closer to full-size scale. Then as you travel down the street you might notice that the forced perspective is actually making the buildings smaller and smaller so that as you lead up to the castle it creates a greater sense of impact and scale.
But wait, there’s more!
Universal Studios Hollywood is rolling on an unstoppable train at a fever pitch and the theme park world is all the better for it. These newest additions are a fantastic direction for the studio park and we cannot wait to see what else is in the horizon.
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER is set to officially debut at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, 2016.
More to come following the grand opening next month!