3D Gryffindor Tower; or, Harry Potter and the Cursed Corbels

In the last week, I got fed up with some parts of the Prisoner of AzkabanHogwarts exterior near the suspension bridge that I really can’t find much information on. So I decided to switch gears and add more detail to Gryffindor Tower – in particular, I wanted to create the corbels that support the top part of the tower, where the boys’ dormitory is.

It turns out this is tougher than I expected, and it turns out explaining why is pretty tough as well. It has to do with the way the corbels shrink inward (or don’t) toward the center of the tower, and the way they extend all the way out to become part of the circular shape of the tower, and the way they have semicircular notches carved out between them. You can see a few examples of these designs in this shot from Sorcerer’s Stone, although Gryffindor Tower itself isn’t visible here.

This became quite a roadblock. Every time I thought I had it, Blender would spit out results that looked wildly wrong. So damn frustrating. So I did what any responsible adult would do: I threw up my hands and switched over to something completely different, a music project I’d been working on prior to the Hogwarts project.

As a result, I spent the last few days not thinking about polygons or Array modifiers or enchanted Scottish castles, and it turned out that this did a world of good…when a piece of missing hardware stalled my music project, I reluctantly decided to give the corbels another shot. And whaddaya know? I figured them out pretty quickly!

It took a mixture of Array and Screw modifiers on different objects combined with Boolean operations in a specific order. The results aren’t anything insanely spectacular to look at, but they’re decently accurate, and I should be able to use similar techniques elsewhere on the castle. (Ignore the vertical banding on the tower, by the way; you’ll sometimes see this in curved areas I haven’t yet bothered to smooth out.)

One interesting challenge with this tower is that some of the details actually change from shot to shot in a given film. The reason is simple: some of the visual effects shots in the films are actually composites of multiple miniatures on different scales. The main castle miniature was built at 1:24 scale, which is great from a distance. But for closeup shots, the team built larger versions of specific sections of the castle and composited them in with the main model. For instance, this VFX shot of Gryffindor Tower from Goblet of Fire is nicely broken down in a video at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. The first image here shows a smaller model with part of the tower removed; the second image shows what it looks like when the larger, more detailed miniature of the tower is composited in, allowing for quite a close shot.

This wouldn’t pose any issues for my model, except that it turns out there are actual design differences between the different miniatures in some cases. For Gryffindor Tower, I was specifically noticing the cornice around the base of the conical roof. It has a decorative sort of double curve to it here, right? Well, compare it to the main miniature in this photo from the aforementioned Studio Tour:

The cornice is much simpler and flatter. I’ve spotted a few other spots that change like this. So that raises the question…which version do I create? So far, I’m mostly opting for the most detailed versions I can find; notice that my render above includes the more detailed version of the cornice. But I’ve got to admit, it feels weird to built something that doesn’t fit with the design of the main model. (That’s another reason the suspension bridge is tricky, incidentally…its design actually changes depending on whether we’re looking at the main model or a closeup.)

Anyway, I gotta go build some more castle windows. More updates soon!

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