Getting Caught Up: The Hogwarts Project So Far

All right, let’s take a look at the project so far, since I’ve already been working on it for, like, a month before starting this blog.

First step was to gather as much information as possible: shots from the films, photos of the original Hogwarts miniature from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, publicly available technical drawings of the miniature, behind-the-scenes footage, tourist photos and drone shots and floor plans of real-world filming locations…you name it.

Then came the important decision of where to start the 3D model – and which version to start with. Rather than jumping right in with super detailed final meshes, I blocked in a few basic shapes from the various films as a proof of concept in Blender. (My biggest concern was whether I had enough “vertical” information about the heights of various elements; I was pretty set on floor plans.)

Satisfied that this thing was actually going to work, I started over from scratch. The Prisoner of Azkaban version of the castle seemed like the best place to start.

Hey cool, it’s starting to look like Hogwarts!

Then something else occurred to me. I thought back to circa 2008, playing around with the now-defunct Photosynth service from Microsoft. You would feed it a series of photos of the same object or setting, taken from lots of different angles, and it would generate a 3D point cloud (with the original photos hanging in the space around it). I wondered if there was anything like that on the market today.

Turns out that photogrammetry freeware is a thing. I installed Meshroom and got my computer to start generating point clouds and meshes from moving shots of the castle. As you can see, these tend to be pretty rough; resolution, motion blur, lossy compression, dynamic range, and choices of angles are all limiting factors in terms of quality. But many shots still yielded data that I could use for reference in building the actual models.

Generating and refining these reference models takes lots of time and computing power, so this easily ate up at least a week in which I was doing no actual modeling. It was really one of my periodic returns to the information-gathering phase. In one Google detour, I stumbled upon some aerial footage of Alnwick Castle (one of the Hogwarts exterior filming locations for the first two films) and realized I could do more photogrammetry for that location, too.

Again, pretty rough. Nothing from these models is ever going to be directly included in the final project. They’re just a good way of collecting vertical measurements when no elevation drawings are available.

After spending so much time looking at shots of Alnwick, I felt compelled to start doing some actual modeling of those areas. I decided to start a separate model of Alnwick Castle itself; the plan is that I’ll eventually copy the appropriate segments over to the main model.

Lots of jumping around here; there are gaps in my references for certain areas, but I’m hoping to have more information soon. That last render – my most recent, from just this morning – gives a good sense for the level of detail I’d like to see in the entire model. (That part of Alnwick, the warder’s tower, was used as an archway leading toward the location of Hagrid’s hut in the first two films.)

Whew…that brings us up to speed on the current state of the project. Hopefully future posts will allow me to focus a little more on specific areas, since I won’t be summarizing a month’s worth of work all at once.

Like what you see? Got a question? Feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, see you soon, I hope!


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