“The Making of Harry Potter” studio tour experience takes place on the actual sound stages where the movies were shot in London, and offers fans an interactive, up-close-and-personal look at how all eight films were made. Guests can see many of the iconic sets, costumes, creatures and props, and witness all of the creativity and craftsmanship that went into bringing the film series to life.
But the amazing finished product was the result of years of work for the creative team at Thinkwell, which partnered with Warner Bros. and the filmmakers themselves to create this one-of-a-kind experience. From hashing out the kind of experience they wanted to build for visitors, to pouring over thousands of props, sets and costumes while figuring out which to include, the project was a true labor of love for those involved.
Thinkwell had an existing relationship with Warner Bros. from past projects, and started discussing potential Harry Potter-themed experiences five years ago, as production on the film series was moving toward the end. Warner Bros. wanted to keep the Harry Potter brand alive, and already had a touring museum exhibit and various theme park experiences dedicated to the young wizard’s franchise.
When film production was winding down, it came time to decide what to do with the enormous studio the films were shot in, as well as eight films’ worth of props, sets and scenery. Warner Bros. was leasing the facility (a former aircraft engine plant) and opted to buy it outright to turn it into a proper Warner Bros. movie studio with a visitor attraction based on Harry Potter.
Thinkwell wanted to give visitors an authentic “behind the scenes” look inside the movies and how they were created, and the experience was built on two separate huge sound stages.
“The thesis is celebrating the craftsmanship that went into making these eight films over 10 years. These sets were so amazing—it’s not like film sets that we know in Hollywood. They were truly architecture. The Great Hall was built in one location and used for 10 years,” says Thinkwell ceo Joe Zenas.
“The set on its own is amazing, but understanding the context in which it was shot and how it ended up in the film is truly the magic of film making, so we wanted to tell that story wherever we could.”
The Thinkwell team first had to examine all of the stakeholders’ interests in the project, knowing they had to please the studio, the operations group, as well as the throngs of dedicated fans. The project was parameter-driven because there were so many things the team could do with the brand itself.
“They didn’t want purely an entertainment piece. It had to be interactive, it had to celebrate the hallowed ground of where the films came from, and it had to be uniquely British, as well,” Zenas says.
The site was limited to a maximum of one million visitors per year, and the experience had to work outside of the arrival hours of the working movie studio, all while culling down the 10 years of artifacts into a cohesive story.
The filmmakers kept everything from all eight movies in storage, so there were 230 storage containers loaded with every prop, set and costume used in the film to sort through. Thinkwell worked closely with Warner Brothers archivists to unearth everything and tag it to figure out the complete inventory. The team worked closely with the filmmakers, department heads and production director Stuart Craig in identifying what would work best.
“We had an embarrassment of riches. With everything saved, the challenge was figuring out what not to include in the attraction,” says Thinkwell chief creative officer Craig Hanna.
“We approached it from the guest’s perspective of what they would really want to see, do and learn about,” Zenas says.
The visitor experience starts out in a screening room where an introductory film featuring Harry Potter stars prepares them for the behind-the-curtain look they will get at the movies. At the end of the clip, the screen rolls up and visitors walk through the space where it was and into one of the most iconic sets of the series.
“They walk though the screen and into the Great Hall of Hogwarts as guests, and that leads into the story of the magic of movies,” Zenas says.
As they exit the Great Hall, guests see the backside of the set and realize they are on a huge sound stage organized with all of the iconic sets, while also seeing the pipe and scaffold and the ephemera of movie-making on the other side of them.
In addition to the amazing sets, visitors get a first-hand look at the creature workshop, where effects masters created all of the prosthetics for the actors, as well as the assortment of odd creatures that inhabit the Harry Potter universe.
The tour’s grand finale takes visitors around the enormous model of Hogwarts that was used for flyover effects. This 50-by-75-foot scale model is 32 feet tall, and the Thinkwell team leveraged an elegant ramp to get visitors up 20 feet to allow them to circumnavigate the model.
Interactivity is always a big part of designing experiences such as this, especially when it is an all-ages attraction. The interactives had to play to all levels of visitors, from the super-fans to the newbies.
For little kids, interactives range from collecting stamps in a passbook to searching for hidden Golden Snitches within the environments. Green screen activations put youngsters on a broomstick, with aerial views CGI’ed behind them.
In addition, an elaborate audio and video media guide that takes people as deep into the sets as they would like to go. Magic, indeed.
(HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and ©2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights ©JKR. Warner Bros. logo: TM & © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)