Last month I was lucky enough to get the chance to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. For those that don’t know, it’s the place where most of the Harry Potter series was filmed. You can take a look behind-the-scenes at the sets, costumes and props used in the making of the films, and learn closely guarded secrets about the special effects and animatronics that brought them to life.
So, what was it like? I have to say it was absolutely amazing! I couldn’t believe how big the studios were and just how much was available to see, just like it was in the films. We explored iconic sets like the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore’s Office and marvelled at the beautiful props and trinkets like the horcruxes. Outside in the back lot we explored Privett Drive, The Knight Bus, the Hogwarts Bridge and the Ford Anglia-and we even got to have some Butterbeer (which is delicious, by the way)! There was just so much to look at and so much information to take in.
I actually didn’t realise just how much effort had gone into the making some aspects of the film. It took the studio team months to build some of the sets, only to have to destroy them later or have the camera pan across them for a couple of seconds of film time. In the potions dungeon, for instance, the audio guide (narrated by Tom Felton) explained that each bottle had been hand labelled and that one of the prop makers had gone to London Zoo to buy a lot of toy frogs, snakes and things to put in jars and then decorate them with fake cobwebs. The detail was incredible, but you hardly notice it in the films unless you’re specifically looking for it.
I was also surprised by how many of the effects were created using animatronics rather than CGI. For instance, we saw Professor Lupin’s trunk open by itself. His shoes and books etc. were made to unpack themselves using a series of pistons at the back of the trunk. And in The Burrow, the pots that wash themselves, the knitting that knits itself and so on, were all there to see moving and working. The Quidditch was of course filmed against a green screen, and if you wanted to you could have a go at sitting on a broom and film your own mini-movie at an extra cost.
Another incredible part of the tour was the creature shop. This was where they make all of the dummies and prosthetics for the mythical creatures that appear in Harry Potter. The goblin heads, and full size models of some of the cast ‘playing dead’ were so eerily realistic. We also caught sight of Nearly Headless Nick’s severed head- the absolute spitting image of John Cleese, complete with surprised/horrified expression! In this room they also explained that in order to make Hagrid appear so large in some shots, Robbie Coltrane had a stunt double in the form of a seven foot rugby player who wore an animatronic model of Robbie Coltrane’s head on his shoulders! Honestly, if I hadn’t have seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. But we saw it making such realistic facial expressions, it was a little creepy. The models of the Basilisk, Aragog and dragons were also not for the faint-hearted. One of the dragons (the Hungarian Horntail I think) was built with a flame thrower in its mouth that could blast fire 35ft across the room (but thankfully it was disabled).
The best part of the tour (in my opinion) comes at the very end, but I don’t want to reveal the surprise Trust me, it’s pretty special and might even bring a tear to your eye.
Tips for Visitors
If you’re planning a visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, here are my tips:
- Buy your tickets well in advance to book a good time slot, and make sure you plan your route to the studio carefully so you don’t miss your slot. We chose to catch a train from central London to Watford Junction, and then took the shuttle bus from there, which was only about £2 for a return. The shuttle bus is decorated with Harry Potter pictures and shows a film while you travel, so it’s great fun for kids.
- You can buy special tickets that come with an audio-guide and a program. I’d definitely recommend someone in your group getting one, as the audio guide is full of very interesting information and videos that you don’t have access to otherwise. The program is really worth having-it’s the perfect souvenir and is about £9.99 in the shop, yet much cheaper if you buy it with your ticket.
- You’ll need to bring your confirmation letter with you to collect your tickets.
- We stayed for about three hours but you may need longer if you have kids in tow. Give yourself plenty of time to look around.
- Don’t forget to take a good camera with plenty of battery life.
- The shop has a lot of fantastic HP merchandise, but as expected, it’s quite expensive. If you are taking kids it might be a good idea to discuss with them beforehand how much you are willing to spend so they don’t get carried away.
- In the back lot you have the opportunity to purchase some Butterbeer! I’d recommend getting the souvenir version which comes in a plastic beaker than you can take home. It’s very sticky and messy though, so bring some tissues or wet wipes to clean out the beaker or your bag will be a mess!