I have to thank one of our regulars for pointing out another detail visible in the new photos of the quad: There appear to be steps around the perimeter! In fact, I think these were part of what originally made me think there was tracery in the arches—in the overhead shot in COS, the steps are vaguely visible, but it’s not at all clear what they are. Anyway, here’s a small post showing off that fix. Thanks, Englanderish!
(As a bonus thank you, I’ve temporarily installed that artificial sun you requested. It does get dark down there in the original quad.)
I’ll wrap up this short post with another SS/GOF slider, partly to show another angle of the steps, and partly because I added a couple more flambeaux to the GOF version. This is the view you’d have with your window pressed up against the big window in the marble staircase tower.
I can’t promise if/when there will be further updates to the main project … but today, I have one for you.
As I’ve said, my Potter fandom has been at its lowest level, thanks to a certain author continuing to use her influence to hurt trans communities. Still … when some truly remarkable behind-the-scenes photos of the original quad recently surfaced, I knew I had some stuff to fix.
We’ve previously covered this courtyard in several posts:
The original quad had cloisters and sat significantly lower than the one found in later films (probably starting in GOF). Reference is extremely scant, so I’d made some best guesses. The chances of finding any further photos of the original were slim. After all, those cloisters had been chucked into a dumpster circa 2005, right?
Carrie Louise-Webb is a fabulous artist who helps with the yearly snowing and de-snowing of the Hogwarts miniature. As I previously pointed out, she posts insanely cool shots of the model on Instagram. Last year, she mentioned a second courtyard beneath the quad. I was stunned at the implications. The original hadn’t been ripped out—it had just been covered up by the new floor! Still, I didn’t dare hope that she’d be able to share photos.
But this year, she delivered. And let me tell you, if I’d been standing in the quad, my jaw would have dropped right throughthat falsefloor.
The original quad floor really is gone, but fortunately, that’s visible in Chamber of Secrets and a couple of construction photos. It’s the cloister walls that were a mystery, and, well … there they are! I was surprised to see that most of the arches were totally open, with no tracery to be seen. (I’d assumed they most likely had Gloucester Cathedral-like tracery.) There were a lot of other details to tweak or add too. So I got to work, also factoring in the elevation of the original quad floor from the cover of Harry Potter: The Blueprints book. (My estimate from COS photogrammetry was a little high.)
Slide back and forth to get a sense of my fixes. The old version is on the left; the newer, more accurate version is on the right.
Areas of remaining uncertainty in that render include that large window at the top center and the balustrade in the archway to the left. I have hope for photos of the former, since it still exists; the latter will be tough because it’s been gone for 15 years.
Another thing I adjusted was the large window at the top right corner of this next render:
That window was later filled in, presumably when the floor was raised. We now have confirmation for one of the reasons: The bottom was lower than the level of the new floor. If you look back at Carrie’s three photos, you can see a light gray area on the far right. I believe this is where the window was patched up with plaster. The part above the new quad floor was also painted to match the surrounding brick texture, but they evidently didn’t bother painting the part hidden below the quad floor. (Who could blame them?)
Anyway, the render below is what you’d see if you were lying on the grass of the quad, looking up. No changes visible here; just a cool view.
Note the headmaster’s office poking out over the marble staircase tower. Yep, Dumbledore has a view of the quad. In fact, it looks something like this:
Sorry about the blocky cliffs at the bottom. Maybe someday I’ll finish sculpting those.
I’ll sign off for today with a couple last looks down into the old quad, with the GOF quad for comparison on the right.
The GOF revision is certainly more sensible in terms of access, but the old version is more interesting, isn’t it?
My grandfather’s health had already been in decline, but in 2021, that decline accelerated. By October, it seemed like he didn’t have much time left.
Then my mom went into the hospital for increasingly severe back/hip pain. She was diagnosed with cancer. A week later, she was gone. My grandfather followed a few days afterward.
This was an absolutely brutal one-two punch for my entire family. Totally sapped my creative energies for a while. These slowly returned with music and photography projects, but I didn’t have any interest in Hogwarts. It certainly didn’t help that Rowling continues to treat the rights of trans women and cis women as if they’re a zero-sum game. So it felt really weird when in August, I briefly started getting intrigued by the literary version of the castle again.
You may remember this post, in which I detailed my inchoate attempts to visually capture Hogwarts as I imagine it in the books.
I didn’t get very far. It’s deeply challenging to reconcile all the details in the books with each other, let alone with my more holistic impressions of the entire place.
And yet here I was again, trying to work out an appealing design solution that contradicted neither the books nor my own imagination. I experimented with digital massing models, trying out different tower positions in 3D:
One of the big challenges is the Astronomy tower. We know that it’s got battlements where the class sets up their telescopes. We know that it’s positioned right above the entrance hall. And we know that it’s the castle’s tallest tower. But having the castle’s tallest point be front and center feels kinda weird. And it gets way worse when you give it a flat top.
So I thought to myself, Hmmm, maybe if I can work out satisfactory designs for the towers, the rest of the castle will follow. I experimented with other basic shapes that allowed for flat battlements on the Astro tower, hoping to find something more dynamic and appealing:
I decided to switch back to 2D. Sometimes that’s easier for ideation. Sure enough, I came up with a design I liked better than any other so far: A hexagonal tower with a sloping spire surrounded by corbelled battlements. Next I tried variations on Ravenclaw Tower, followed by the nearby West Tower, home of the Owlery.
Of course, these towers look very different from each other, but by this point, I’d decided that Hogwarts probably drew on a lot of eclectic architectural styles anyway.
Gryffindor Tower is a tricky bastard. As one of the castle’s three tallest towers, it’s a prime position for casting defensive spells in the Battle of Hogwarts. Yet the common room isn’t any higher up than any of the other rooms on the seventh floor. So where are the fighters going that’s so high up? To the dormitories above? That seems unlikely. And speaking of the dorms … how are those laid out? There are separate spiral staircases for the boys’ and girls’ dorms, and Harry’s cohort is in the same room at the top of the boys’ staircase every year. Maybe something like this?
Again … fugly.
So I gave up again. This was in August 2022. A few months later, I got interested in the fascinating and scary world of AI-generated art, and I convinced Midjourney to create these for me. They’re not closely designed to the specifications of the book castle’s architecture, but I think a lot of them capture the overall vibe in nice ways. I’ll round out this post with these. Wish I could paint like this!
Anyway, I still feel really weird about Harry Potter these days. Not very enthusiastic, thanks to the really disappointing ways the author is using her money and influence. I certainly have no plans to send any further money her way. But I can rationalize whatever interest I still have by reminding myself that she didn’t create the trope of a big fantasy castle.
Still, I wouldn’t judge anyone for being completely done with Potter. Nor would I judge anyone for judging me for not being quite done.
I’m afraid I don’t have any project updates for you. I’ve been finding my own “new normal” after recent losses, and what creative energy (and free time) I have has been spent on other stuff. That’s not to say that the project is dead, but I can’t make any promises as to when I’ll be resuming work on it.
That being said . . . some really cool new shots of the castle have surfaced, thanks to a talented and generous artist who has helped with the seasonal snow on the miniature at the Studio Tour! She actually started sharing shots on Instagram in late 2019, but I wasn’t aware of them until recently. And she continues to post more photos, including some extremely rare angles and amazing details! Definitely check out @carrielwebb on Insta. (My latest mind-blowing moment came earlier today: apparently, the original sunken quad still exists beneath the raised floor they added in (almost certainly) GOF!
Anyway, I hope 2022 is being decently decent to you so far. Hopefully more Hogwarts stuff to share in the future!
The blog has been quiet lately. I’m sad to say that part of this is due to the sudden illness and death of a loved one. I do still hope to resume the project at some point, but right now, I’m just focused on my family. I know all you “regulars” will understand.
In the meantime, give your loved ones a hug. Tell them how much they mean to you. If you live far away, go for that visit you’ve been meaning to plan. These sound like cliches, but they really do make all the difference.
Sorry for the delay in this post. Loooooots of stuff going on in my personal life – some of it really good, some of it not so much.
I was slowly working on the Astronomy tower in the midst of all that when this spectacular YouTube video dropped on the official Wizarding World channel. The never-before-seen photos of the original castle inspired me to revisit some areas, the first of which I documented in this video of my own:
I’ll warn you that it’s a slow video, but I got requests for some modeling without the usual time lapse speedup, so…there ya go. Here’s the unadulterated render from the end of the video.
I’ve got more fixes to make based on the new photos, but I’ll save those for a later post and round this one out with a bit of Astronomy tower progress.
There’s a lot of detail in the main turret where several important Half-Blood Prince scenes take place. Here’s an interesting “deconstructed” view as I start to build the area that also existed as a full-scale set. This is the lower level where Harry hides during the climactic confrontation, but without anything added above it yet:
Funnily enough, this is closer to how the book version of the tower would look, in that it’s got a flat top and crenellated ramparts.
One challenge is that the dimensions of the full-scale set don’t quite match the dimensions of the miniature, at least according to the available blueprints. I’m aiming for something of a happy medium – the goal is for it to look the way it does in the film, if a little less detailed.
Here the arches are starting to take shape. These were a little tricky because of the way they curve:
Continued progress on this tower will also have to wait till a future post, but in the meantime I thought I’d at least share something.
I’ve long known that this structure would get at least one post to itself. It’s big, and so rich with detail! It’s also a weird throwback for me – the first render I did for this project was of the astronomy tower. Or at least, a simple proof of concept. Funnily enough, I never seem to have shared that render, so here it is in all its glory:
Beautiful, I know. 😉
Anyway, as you may know, the original Hogwarts featured the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower – so named by fans because a pullback in GOF implies that Moody’s office is in there. This structure moved but remained fundamentally unchanged all the way until HBP, at which point it was removed, redesigned, and reincarnated as the taller, fancier astronomy tower, which sits where the Dark Tower sat for years 3–5.
From the beginning, the books describe this tower as the castle’s tallest, located very close to the main entrance. The top has crenellated ramparts and a door to a spiral staircase. That’s about all we get. Since the tower was never featured in the first five films, its location, appearance, and even its existence weren’t established in the film canon. But all that had to change in HBP. The filmmakers needed an iconic tower from which a certain somebody could fall in the film’s climax.
As described in my recent blueprint appreciation post, we have some great elevations, sections, and plans for the final design:
It was thus tempting to just build based on these, but I decided to still assemble other references as usual. I was glad I did, because there are details visible in real life that aren’t in those drawings. I even found a few spots where they added extra windows or whatnot. Another complication is that the tower was created at 1:24 and 1:10 scales, plus (I suspect) an even larger miniature or CG asset for the nighttime shot that ascends past Ron, Lavender, and Draco. (That last version has a different design that I’ll ignore.) And then of course there was the full-scale set. I decided to aim for roughly the amount of detail on the main 1:24 miniature, while still paying attention to the others.
Anyway, I captured part of the process in this time lapse:
Or if you just want to look through some renders, enjoy these!
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not sure about some of the details inside the quad. It’s hard to find good reference. One particularly mysterious spot has been the wall that cuts the southeast corner at a 45° angle in this old render:
But then I found this video from Plowman Craven, a company that worked on some of the films. About halfway through, there are partial CG models of the OOTP castle. The last few frames of one of the shots give a low-res view of part of that wall. It’s not much, but along with the other glimpses we have, a better sense of what that wall looks like is starting to emerge.
First of all, I’m taking this as confirmation that the big window to the marble staircase was really there – and slightly higher than where I had it. There’s also a horizontal ledge just above it, and the top of the wall descends toward the right. This actually shows up vaguely in a few other images, now that I look again. It even looks like there might be multiple levels to the flat triangular roof area.
Anyway, I still don’t have anywhere near as close a look as I’d like, but here’s my revised attempt at recreating that wall as it might have appeared in the first three films.
In GOF through HBP, it would have looked similar; the floor was just moved up and the cloister removed.
Speaking of HBP…let’s start that version of the castle! There were numerous changes in this film, but by the far the most prominent one in the final cut of the film is the new astronomy tower. Here I’m prepping the surrounding areas:
The Durham section’s central tower (toward the right) has been shortened by 24 feet so that there are only 3 rows of small windows in the middle section rather than 5. I’d imagine this was for the sake of balancing the silhouette with the new astro tower.
But that tower is going to be a project unto itself, so I think I’ll save that for the next post!
Hogwarts didn’t change much in Order of the Phoenix; I was able to knock out the major changes in no time.
GOF on the left, OOTP on the right, and you can slide to compare:
As you can see, the south side of the quad building was changed. (The poor little GOF version only lasted one film!) I suspect this was because the quad floor was raised quite a bit in (I believe) GOF. The other change noticeable from that view was the addition of spires at the corners of the clock tower courtyard, on the far left.
Here’s another comparison, with SS on the left and OOTP on the right, to show how far we’ve come in the first five films:
(The SS landscape has been hidden to make it a “fair” comparison with the OOTP version, which doesn’t have any landscape yet.)
Anyway, back to GOF vs. OOTP:
We can see here the other big changes: the steepening of the spires at the viaduct entrance, the addition of a couple new spires, and the addition of Snape’s window, in the dungeon level just to the right of the stone bridge. These tweaks were all featured in a single shot that pulls out of Snape’s office, through the window, and up into the snowy sky above Hogwarts, past the steep spires.
Otherwise, Snape’s window is pretty hard to glimpse; it’s basically out of sight at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, and there are no other exterior shots of it in the films that I can think of. So here’s a closer view of my recreation:
At close range like this, you can see that the tracery on some of the windows is pretty flat. But I only have so much time to devote to this project, and I’m already drowning in polygons.
Anywhoodle, let’s wrap up with another SS vs. OOTP comparison, showing the whole castle.
Same castle, but…not! Which is kinda the whole point of this project, I suppose, haha.
By the way, I’ve been careful with my phrasing in this post, because these are not ALL the changes in OOTP. The stone circle by the wooden bridge mysteriously disappeared (only to reappear in future films), but I haven’t built the stone circle yet so there was nothing to remove. I also may build Hogsmeade Station when I build the environment, and that got a brand-new design and location in this film.