One of our wedding presents was a trip to the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, which made this nerd very happy indeed. The studios are based at Leavesden in Watford and give a behind the scenes glimpse into how the Harry Potter movies were made.
The tour takes about three hours to get around, although you could easily spend longer in there, examining all the displays. When you arrive, you’re greeted in the hub by an enormous dragon and a display of costumes from Fantastic Beasts. If you’re early for your slot, there’s also access to the shop, a large food hall and two smaller cafes, so you can fuel up before you head in.
The tour starts with a short video about filming, before you find yourself outside a set of special doors. When the doors swing open, the Great Hall is revealed.
My photos of the Hall absolutely don’t do the scale of it justice, so instead of spoiling the surprise for you, I haven’t even tried to capture it. The set is enormous, with real flagstone floors and a soaring ceiling. Around the set, you’ll find Hogwarts uniforms from each of the houses, including the Gryffindor robes an 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe wore on his first day of filming. At the top, you’ll find Dumbledore and the other teachers, ready to welcome you to Hogwarts (why yes, I do have Dumbledore’s welcoming song from A Very Potter Musical stuck in my head).
Welcome all of you to Hogwarts. I welcome all of you to school. Did you know that here at Hogwarts we’ve got a hidden swimming pool? Welcome, welcome, welcome Hogwarts. Welcome hotties, nerds, and tools. Now that I’ve got you here at Hogwarts, I’d, um, like to go over just a couple of rules .Albus Dumbledore – A Very Potter Musical
From the Great Hall, you move into the first of the studio lots, where you’ll find the interior sets. Mixed amongst the sets are costumes, props and displays covering everything from the music of the films to how the costume department designed the look of each character.
There’s a staggering amount of detail in these sets, and I could have happily spent ages staring at them looking for more missed details. There are information boards everywhere and videos to explain how the sets were designed and dressed. You can learn about how they made the Gryffindor common room look lived in, to how they made Hagrid’s hut make him look much bigger than the other characters. The stand out for me was Dumbledore’s office. There’s so much to look at (including the Pensieve) and it’s just beautiful. A close second was The Burrow, which has some fun interactive elements to get some household magic going.
You’ll also find the first of the Green Screen experiences here, where you can fly on a broom. Be warned, queues for this are long, and the pictures are not included in your ticket price. There are packages available, but we didn’t see a price list anywhere. I guess they keep that as a surprise for when you’ve finished queuing.
I’d always assumed that a lot of the effects in the Potter films were done with computer wizardry, but actually a lot of it was done with practical effects, mostly because it was cheaper! There’s some fascinating information about this, covering everything from broomstick flight to the Whomping Willow attacking the Ford Anglia.
Added to the tour in 2017, you can now visit the Forbidden Forest. It was too dark in there for photos, but rest assured, it is very cool. It might be too scary for young children, and if you’re afraid of spiders, I suggest asking the staff for directions around the forest to skip the spidery parts. There are some great creatures in here, and some more really fun interactive effects to play with.
If you survive the Forbidden Forest, its onto Platform 9 3/4. This was my favourite part of the tour I think. There are some nice photo opportunities here, and of course, the Hogwarts Express. The train is beautiful, for Potter fans and train nerds alike. If you climb aboard, you can see the different compartments dressed for different moments in Potter history. It’s gorgeous.
Next stop, the Backlot Cafe! Somewhat criminally for a food blogger, I didn’t actually eat anything at the tour, as we had lunch booked elsewhere. I did, however, order a Butterbeer. If you want Butterbeer only, you can skip the queues and get into a separate line, which moves much faster. Ok, the Butterbeer is very expensive, especially if you are a sucker like me and buy it in the souvenir ‘tankard’. I’m sure I will use these fetching plastic cups all the time at home.
I’ve heard mixed reviews of the drink, with some people loving it and others hating it. Despite that and the price, I had to try it for myself. Honestly? It mostly tastes of cheap cream soda with some melted ice cream on top. It’s…fine. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and one cup was more than enough for me, whereas my sweet-toothed husband enjoyed it a lot more. I think the Butterbeer in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is much better.
In the Backlot itself, you’ll find the Knight Bus and some larger set pieces, including Privet Drive. The crowds seemed to dissipate here (I assume as everyone stopped for snacks), so this is a great spot to pose stupidly with things.
The weather didn’t want to let us stay out there too long, so we moved on to Creature Effects. Like any good Ravenclaw, I’m a massive nerd, so this insight into how all the creatures were created was absolutely fascinating.
Next up is one of the most exciting parts of the studio; Diagon Alley. It’s a beautiful set, and there’s a lot to look at, so take your time to peer into all the windows.
All the famous shops are here, and the windows are crammed full of fun details. My favourite was the display of Lockhart’s books in Flourish and Blotts.
Early last year, the tour added Gringotts, and honestly, wow. Gringotts was actually filmed on location, so this is a recreation, not a real set, but it’s impressive nonetheless. You can get an up-close look at the prosthetic work used to create the goblins. After the main hall, you move into the vaults, where there are more looks into physical effects, the LeStrange vault and some interesting goblin stuff.
The last stop of the tour is the Art Department, where my engineer husband was delighted to find architectural drawings of the sets. If you’re interested in design, this area is really interesting, but might not be very exciting for young kids.
At the Studio Tour, they really save the best for last…
Hogwarts. This incredible scale model was used for panning shots of the castle. It’s enormous, and absolutely breath-taking in person.
Ok, the castle isn’t actually last, as, like any day out, you have to exit through the shop. The Potter merch is great, but it’s bloody expensive.
I loved how much the tour celebrates the clever people who actually make these films; this is a tour focussed on the crew and the people who make costumes, build sets and create creepy monsters to make the world of Harry Potter.