What Hogwarts Design Changes?

[EDIT 8/14/20: Wow, this post continues to be among the most popular on this blog! Clearly I’m not the only one interested in the changing architecture of Hogwarts. If this is your first time visiting, be sure to check out the rest of the blog too!]

All right, time for that mega-post I’ve been slowly working on for the last few weeks! Finishing this today has been a nice distraction as I try to recover from a nasty cold and/or ear infection and/or laryngitis and/or sinus infection. Off to see the doctor in just a bit to figure out what’s going on.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, you probably only caught one or two of the changes to Hogwarts while watching the films…and even then, perhaps it was barely a conscious realization. That’s good! That means the filmmakers were successful in preserving the “feel” of Hogwarts even as they had to change, add, and remove certain structures to meet the needs of the various stories (and various directors). Because yes, they made changes throughout the films – large, small, and everything in between.

Just what were those changes? Let’s take a small detour from my model work and find out! Here are the changes I would consider major, in chronological order. I’ve attempted to find photos that illustrate the changes, though the angles are often very different. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list, either. There are plenty of small tweaks I’ve left out – adding a small extra turret, slightly moving a wall, tweaking the angle or height of a structure, etc. Those will be part of the model, but there’s no sense detailing every one of them here. Oh, also, I’m also just looking at exteriors; the interiors aren’t really part of the scope of this project. Even so, it’s gonna be a long post. Bear with me.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Stuart Craig and his team designed and built the first iteration of the castle. It’s a physical miniature at 1:24 scale, although it’s still so huge that a person can stand at lake level and their head won’t even reach the bottom floors of the castle.

Side note: this may be my favorite shot of the castle from any of the films. I do really like some of the changes to come, but boy, does this image stick beautifully in my mind.

Anyway, onward!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Relatively modest changes, but still noticeable…

To accommodate the Herbology scene, the greenhouses were added to the northeast corner of the castle. (The “before” shot is of a 3D model created by Matt Wright during the production of the first film – check out his website!)

The Whomping Willow was added nearby, on one of the lawns of the real-world Alnwick Castle filming location.

The curtain walls walls and small towers surrounding those lawns were redesigned to look partially ruined and less Alnwick-like.

The roofline of the nearby training grounds tower changed. (At this point, this structure is still basically a section of Alnwick, but with a different taller roofline.) The below comparison also gives you another view of the change to the curtain walls.

Not too many changes, right? Oh, just you wait…

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Okay, big changes here! The first is stylistic. Most of the spires in the first two films are fairly short. But in this film, many of them were made significantly taller and steeper, creating a much more Gothic look.

Time plays a big role in the film’s climax, so a new clock tower was added behind the castle. This was connected to the existing structures with a new enclosed bridge, which also attached to a new hospital wing on top of the existing castle. Attached to the new clock tower is a new courtyard, and attached to the courtyard is a new wooden bridge across a ravine. (This was one of the few additions I noticed when I first saw the film.)

At the other end of the wooden bridge is a stone circle and a path leading down the hill to the new site of Hagrid’s redesigned hut…all the way on the opposite side of the grounds from its location in the first two films! (The nearby Whomping Willow similarly moves somewhere down here.)

What Dumbledore refers to as the “Dark Tower” is added as the location of Sirius Black’s holding cell. This necessitates the slight relocation of the semicircular tower and suspension bridge that were already in this area, as well as the removal of a small structure modeled directly after the Chapter House at the real-world Durham Cathedral (another filming location for the early movies).

You can also glimpse some significant changes to the landscape in the shot above. You know the Quidditch training grounds seen mainly in the first film? The spot where Harry learns to fly? Yeah, the landscape literally swallows up much of this area as new hills form behind the school. The curtain walls that enclosed this area now disappear right into the hillsides, as you can see near the bottom left. This is part of a larger trend of removing Alnwick Castle influences from the castle over the course of the series.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A much more modest set of changes, but important nonetheless. For one, the hills behind the school added in the previous film become the location of the owlery, a relatively small tower that stands alone on a rocky outcrop.

The entry area at the front of the Great Hall is revised with a second clock tower and a new courtyard (often referred to in fan circles as the Viaduct Courtyard) is added in front.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Whoa. No major changes here that I’ve been able to find, although a few of the remaining short spires get steepened to match the changes in POA.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the last film to use the physical miniature, so this is the version that can now be seen in person at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London.

The Astronomy tower plays an important role in this film, and the team ended up designing an entirely new tower to fit the bill. To make room for it, the Dark Tower and the semicircular Defense Against the Dark Arts tower get axed, although the new Astronomy tower does share some design elements with the latter. (The snowy “Before” shot is from Chamber of Secrets, in order to better match the angle. Ignore the pre-steepened spires on the nearby towers.)

One of the last few vestiges of Alnwick Castle, the training grounds tower, gets replaced with a much simpler version with a smaller footprint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

The filmmakers decided to go with an all-digital Hogwarts for this final entry, for better flexibility in shot design (and to make it a lot easier to create battle damage). Although the CGI Hogwarts is generally designed to be identical to the miniature, there are still some changes.

For starters, the Viaduct Courtyard gets significantly enlarged, as this is a major location in the Battle of Hogwarts.

The original viaduct – a feature dating all the way back to the first film! – is removed. Instead, there’s now a new, larger viaduct. Rather than connecting one half of the castle to the other, it connects the castle – specifically, the enlarged Viaduct Courtyard – to an adjacent area of land. (The area of the courtyard that connects to the viaduct receives some new gatehouses, too.) This is the location of several notable scenes, including the final scene before the epilogue.

Down at lake level, the boathouse is seen up close for the first time, and it gets a somewhat revised design. (The DH shot is a render of the 3D model as posted by Nic Henderson on his website.)

Interestingly, what remained of the training grounds area – all the curtain walls and so forth behind the greenhouses – doesn’t make it into the CG version of the castle. Perhaps this is simply because they knew weren’t going to have any scenes back here. With that, the last traces of Alnwick Castle’s real-world design elements are removed.

Lastly, the wooden bridge that was added in Azkaban gets lengthened. (Before Neville blows it up, that is.) Still the same basic design, though.

Beyond the Potter Films: Universal, Fantastic Beasts, etc.

As the films were wrapping up, Universal Studios opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, featuring an impressive Hogwarts facade on the exterior of its headliner attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This was built on a smaller scale, relying on forced perspective to make it look like it matches the scale seen in the films. The design seems to be somewhat loosely based off the front of the Half-Blood Prince version, as it includes the Astronomy tower (sorta) but the courtyard/viaduct configuration doesn’t reflect the Deathly Hallows changes. (The entire back of the castle is also missing, since it can’t be seen from inside the park.) Similar versions are later built in Hollywood and Japan.

Although the Harry Potter films end with Deathly Hallows, Hogwarts makes an onscreen appearance in the Fantastic Beasts series as well. It seems to be identical to the CG version seen in Deathly Hallows, though I haven’t looked at it in great detail. (Since this takes place many years before even the first Potter film, it essentially retcons the castle as having always looked the way it does in Deathly Hallows.)

The castle is also explorable (sometimes even on broomstick) through a variety of console games for the various films. The castle designs are typically similar to those of the corresponding films. There’s also Pottermore’s “Welcome to Hogwarts” feature, which seems to be based on the DH2/FB CG version, but I haven’t looked into it closely enough to be able to document differences, if any.

So What?

Whew. We’re coming to the end of this mega-post. Only one question remains: if all these changes can already be seen in pictorial form, why bother with a model? Well, here’s the thing…I’ve selected the best comparison images I could find for this post, but you’ll notice that as I said, the before/after camera angles are NEVER identical. Why should they be? The different films get to show the castle from different angles, under different lighting schemes, emphasizing different aspects of its design for a variety of aesthetic and plot-related reasons. The only problem is that it makes it a lot harder to do really quick and direct visual comparisons. Your brain has to adjust to the new angle even as it looks for discrepancies.

So the aim of this whole model project is simple: I want to be able to lock the camera down (virtually speaking) and watch the castle change from film to film. The parts that stay the same will be identical quite literally on a pixel-by-pixel basis, while the changes will immediately jump out. It’s going to take a while to get the model to that state, but I’m sure enjoying the journey. More to come soon!

4 thoughts on “What Hogwarts Design Changes?

  1. I just want to say THANK YOU so much for this post. As a kid I was absolutely obsessed with the castle in the films and trying to keep track of all the changes. I don’t know if you’ve seen this map by Quentin Lowagie, which is of a drawn map of the castle and all its changes from the film, which I think sparked my obsession: https://www.hp-lexicon.org/place/atlas-wizarding-world/atlas-of-hogwarts/hogwarts-in-the-movies/

    Unfortunately they didn’t carry on editing the map after goblet of fire, so I’ve been looking for a document of all the changes since film 5 but really struggled (it’s been years!) and I’ve just come across this post and I am so happy! So thank you so much again.

    One change I noticed that was missing from your post was the tower to the right of the main staircase tower, which changed in Deathly Hallows part 2 to look similar to the astronomy watch tower. I don’t know if you noticed? I’m curious to see if you had any thoughts on why they made that change/what that tower is meant to be. I was thinking maybe the Ravenclaw tower as there was such a poignant scene there in that film.. but I’m not sure that looks right either.

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    1. You’re very welcome, Patrick! I’m glad this was helpful to you. And you’re absolutely right about that tower changing in DH – it actually changed in HBP as well. My post doesn’t include those smaller changes…perhaps I should go back and add them in. In any case, I think these particular changes were motivated purely by Stuart Craig wanting to change some bits of the castle he wasn’t satisfied with.

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      1. Thanks for getting back to me Joe! That’s great, I didn’t realise it was an HBP change. You’re probably right, my quest to locate the ravenclaw tower continues ! Cheers Joe

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