Harry Potter & the Trip to Leavesden

Three weeks ago, Alan and I bought impulse tickets to the Warner Bros Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. We didn’t know what our class schedule was like (I ended up having to miss one of Prof Hendrickson’s classes but he was really nice about it) – we just bought it because this attraction is so crazily booked up you can’t get a weekend slot unless you go through some overpriced middleman or wait three months more. It just so happened that there was just one timing left in the immediate future – a Thursday, 28 June, 3pm slot. So we went.

Tickets are £28 and not particularly cheap but considering the Harry Potter exhibition in the Art&Science Museum back home is demanding S$21, what we saw was a steal. You can take all the photographs you want, and more importantly, you’re touching (or at least walking) the same damn rooms that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint did. THIS IS THE ACTUAL SET WHERE THEY WORKED PLAYED AND LIVED FOR TEN YEARS.

I must also add that I know next to nothing about the Harry Potter books. On the shuttlebus from Watford Junction to the actual location (oh, getting to Leavesden, where the studio is, is an absolute bitch), Alan decided to spring a pop quiz on me.

Alan: What is the fourth book in the series called?
Rachel:  Harry Potter & the Triwizard Cup (I gave some stupid answer cos I seriously didn’t know)
Alan: What does Professor Sprout teach?
Rachel: Horticulture. 
Alan: How do you set a house elf free?
Rachel: You tell him he’s free?
Alan: Here’s a clue… Harry Potter gave Dobby a sock…?
Rachel: Oh goodness, did he –? Masturbate?

So yeah completely clueless about the books (and evidently the movies, even though I watched 7 out of 8 of them. Didn’t watch Chamber of Secrets). Nonetheless, I wanted to go not so much because I’m a Potterhead, but I love sets and I suppose some part of me wants to make a movie one day.

Well, post-trip, I can declare that I probably won’t be making a movie on this scale anytime soon. Harry Potter was a labour of love that involved so many people of varying skills (but all of the same skill level: freaking good) over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME. You know Aragog, the Basilisk, Buckbeak (I sound like I’m such a freaking expert, right? Haha I totally didn’t know what they were called before – I identified them as Spider, Dragon Combi, Giant Bird)? You thought they were all CGI right? I sure did. Well, they’re not. They’re freaking real, as in operable giant animatronix things. What. The. Heck. This essentially means that our wonderment was probably the same as the kids and actors who saw these otherwise fantasy-only creatures: like they really were at Hogswart and the whole world JK Rowling created.

Buckbeak woke up from his nap and blinked at me.

If I was impressed by the birds and other magical creatures, you can imagine the look on my face when I stepped into the Great Hall. In some way, there was a sense of deja vu because Claire took Ying and me to an awesome dinner at Keble College, where she studies.

The Great Hall was missing its iconic ceiling – that was added in post-production – which I guess makes Keble a prettier, realer place. But I was still in the very same room as all those kids (how did they fit all in here??)! The level of detail was crazy amazing:

Thank God I know who these characters are.

The Great Hall was one place you had a set time to linger in (about 15 minutes) before the staff would usher in a new group of fanboys and girls. Everything else, though, was own-time-own-target. Blogs and even the website advised 3 to 3.5 hours. Well, Alan and I were there for 4.5… I don’t know how that happened. It might have to do that we were trying to maximize our audio guide (£4.50 rental, narrated by Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy). It wasn’t all that necessary as the exhibition had informative signs and interactive stations for us to find out more, but it was still good fun to see the interviews the crew and other behind-the-scenes peeps did. They’re not in the spotlight often. One of the animal trainers had a really funny story about a dog (Hagrid’s?) that knew it’d be rewarded with meat soon so it’d always get slobber all over the costumes. Haha.

Okay just pictures now:

Gryffindor Common Room

Snape’s classroom

The Burrows – you can see Mrs Weasley’s self-scrubbing pan in the background! It actually moved on its own.

Diagon Alley

I haven’t even put in pictures of the wands, the Mirror of Erised, the horcruxes! There were just so many things. At some points in time I felt a little bit emotional / overwhelmed. One of the head sets/props ladies said they spent so much time transforming the place to something believable so that the director would always have flexibility about where to film things and not worry whether that particular angle looked real or not. The amount of time invested into something that might not make it on screen! I was just so touched by their dedication. Also I can be quite a sap, but yeah.

Here’s the Magic is Might statue (the inscription’s cut off in this photo) that sits in the Ministry of Magic. WHAT THE HECK. Look at the crushed Muggles, their facial expressions. AND THEY MADE THIS WITH FOAM? HOW?

They had Umbridge’s office, the Floo Network, Hagrid’s hut, etc. When we finally managed to pry ourselves away from the exhibits in the indoor hall, we stepped outside to…

4 Privet Drive


IMHO, the Butterbeer at Universal Studios is much better. But hey, I was too happy to really care.

The biggest highlight of course is the 1:8 model of the Hogwarts castle, used in every movie except the last two films (I think), when technology had developed enough for the crew to use CGI and still make it look super realistic.

Definitely teared up a bit just looking at it. I think we spent close to half an hour at this stop (the last hurrah) alone. I was looking out for all the details. Even the boathouse where Snape met his end was built and it had little platforms and oars! Whaaaat. Also the lights change from dawn to dusk to give an idea of what the castle looks like at different times of the day. What considerate studio planning people.

The people at Warner Bros also immortalized themselves in a makeshift version of Ollivander’s wand shop – every single person who was involved in the film had a wand to call their own, somewhere in here. We found the usual suspects – JK Rowling, the actors – and I also found Dave McKean (who has done a lot of collaborations with NEIL GAIMAN!!!).

Then the two of us headed for the store and fooled around with the costumes.

Obviously the business major would be a Slytherin.

I’m clearly having too much fun:

I wore such a huge smile on the whole ride back 🙂

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