The Transfiguration Courtyard

Time for a Hogwarts feature that’s right out of Durham Cathedral, at least in its original form. The cloisters were used as the filming location for the “middle courtyard” or “Transfiguration courtyard” in the early films, though it was later represented by a similar courtyard at Oxford and then by a set at Leavesden.

I first spent a morning working on under-the-hood tweaks to hopefully improve the file’s performance – downrezzing overlarge normal maps, replacing duplicated objects with linked proxies, decimating some meshes that had gotten too dense, etc. The hope is that my computer will be able to handle the file a little more easily moving forward. No sexy renders to share for that, though, so here’s a cute puppy photo instead.

Anyway, back to Hogwarts! A big question cropped up as I was compiling my references: How much detail do I put into the cloisters – specifically, the doorways that lead to other parts of the castle? These are seen in the location shoots in the first two films, but at least some of these were evidently left out the miniature. (They never would have been visible in the film, so I can appreciate the decision to focus elsewhere.) Furthermore, the south walk (which corresponds to the east walk at Durham) changed repeatedly over the course of the films, and I have no idea what the cloister interior looked like at that point.

I figured the most reasonable approach would be to create the complete courtyard without those doorways and then see if I could get away with it in my renders. I started with the tracery of the cloisters and a basic ground plane:

This part was easy because I’d already built the clock tower courtyard – its cloisters contain a lot of design elements adapted from Durham Cathedral.

The fountain in the center of the courtyard was next, and this one’s going to give me some trouble later on…not because it’s hard to create, but because it’s unclear exactly when it vanished. Let’s break it down:

  • It was created for the first film, apparently as a set dressing that sat on top of the lavatorium (monks’ handwashing station) that sits in the middle of the courtyard at Durham.
  • It’s still there in the second film, both on location and in a bespoke 1/8th-scale model of the courtyard used in an overhead establishing shot.
  • The center of the courtyard is never visible in the third film, so that one’s a question mark.
  • As I mentioned, goings-on in the courtyard were shot at Oxford instead of Durham Cathedral for the fourth film, so the location looks totally different and won’t be reflected in my model. There is an aerial shot during the First Task when we briefly see the Durham courtyard, but if the fountain is there, only the very top of it is peeking over the roofline.
  • No idea in the fifth film…
  • In the sixth film, the courtyard was realized as a set that included the base of the Astronomy Tower. (I suspect this was a revamp of the viaduct courtyard set, which I suspect was a revamp of the clock tower courtyard set.) There’s no fountain in that set, but that set is far from a perfect match to the miniature. I can’t find any shots of the center of the courtyard in the miniature, but the fountain is gone from the technical drawings and I’d imagine the same is true of the miniature.
  • In the final film, the fountain is again missing from the technical drawings, and this is confirmed with a CG overhead shot of the area.

With all that in mind…until I can find more reference that confirms which changes were made when, I’m just going to assume the fountain lasted till the sixth film, at which point it was removed and never came back.

Anyway, I added the fountain and started the sewer grate. I also added the benches, which seem to have been more set dressings. You can see in this render that I’ve finally mirrored the east walls of the Long Gallery onto the west side, too:

That’s the first render I did with the new Blender 2.90. It’s got some great new features, but it kept crashing when I attempted to render. After some troubleshooting, I figured it out: this version of the software doesn’t like my old smoke simulations. That’ll need to be addressed, but for now, I’m afraid the hearths of Hogwarts have gone cold.

That structure in the top left corner of that render is a newly-added Durham Cathedral transept, the last missing piece of the Long Gallery. In the first film, this one was a simple mirror image of the one on the other side, but when the Dark Tower (center) was added in Prisoner of Azkaban, this transept had to be shortened a bit, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical footprint that lasted right through the end of the series. Easier to see from the air:

As you can see, the one to the left of the central tower isn’t as long as its counterpart on the right.

One interesting thing about this courtyard is that each of its four sides has a different look. I next took care of the north wall, which corresponds to the west wall at Durham:

You’ve no doubt noticed that the cloister is still roofless – I decided to save that for after the surrounding walls were built. Speaking of which, here are the last of them:

It’s hard to find detailed reference for the wall on the right (above the two benches) in the miniature. Its design is similar to that of the corresponding wall at Durham Cathedral, but there are some differences. To make matters worse, there are some apparent discrepancies in the number of windows in the various Hogwarts images available, but there’s a good chance that what I’ve done is accurate to the state of the main miniature at the time of POA. And if not, it’s at least quite close – it could be that there are supposed to be six windows on the shorter part of the wall instead of five.

Anyway, the only remaining step was to add the cloister roofs! With these in place, the answer to my “big question” became clear: No, I didn’t need to add doors and other details inside the cloisters. They simply aren’t visible unless you’re actually inside the cloisters, and I’m okay with not having detailed views inside there. So with that in mind…voilà, the complete transfiguration courtyard!

Incidentally, I love that structure just above the center of that render, below the DADA tower. It was added in the third film when the DADA tower got shifted over a bit, and it’s basically just a Durham Cathedral transept, except, like…a standalone version. Something about it tickles me. Naturally, everything will look better once that wall next to it has an actual building behind it, but that’ll come with adding the final major piece of the main castle: the training grounds tower!


15 thoughts on “The Transfiguration Courtyard

    1. There was one there for the Oxford location shoot in the fourth film and I know it stuck around after that in the games, but I don’t recall seeing it anywhere else after that film…


  1. I would assume the transfiguration courtyard doesn’t really change until HBP, when the astronomy tower is added, since it seams as though the east wall (on which you placed 5 windows, but I think there are 6 doesn’t change until the 6th movie ( and the northern wall doesn’t appear to change at all in any movie. If this is the case I would also think the fountain doesn’t get removed until HBP either and I’m quite sure it at least still exist in GOF since the stone benches and the other thingy are still in the same place as the movies before it (
    I also found this piece of concept art which has these 3 little windows at the bottom of the Durham transept ( though I’m yet to confirm if it exists on the actual model.


    1. Wow, I hadn’t seen that video…great find! I agree with all of your thoughts with the possible exception of those windows. I had noticed that there are at least 6 windows in that COS shot (probably a hidden seventh too), which confused me because they’d have to be waaaaay closer together than the ones we see in that GOF shot. Then I took a look at the photogrammetry and found that that wall is also significantly shorter in that shot than elsewhere. My guess is that the larger bespoke model of the courtyard used in that COS shot just had a different number of windows. Hard to be sure, though.


      1. I hadn’t taken the larger model into account and knowing how these things work, there’s probably a different amount of windows. And about those concept art windows, I have my doubts about hose too, though I thought it was worth sharing anyway. Now I’m looking for a clear shot of that wall to see how many windows there are on the 1/24 scale model, see you in a few years XD


    2. Yeah that piece of concept art has puzzled me as well. But there are some other inaccuracies in there too. My guess is that the bottom just has the same three recessed arches as we find on the other side of the courtyard. From what very little coverage I’ve found of that area, that looks to be the most likely thing…but hard to say for sure.


  2. Hey man, love the blog
    I’m in the middle of a project similar to this but with an irl modular Hogwarts display piece and this blog has been a real help to me (especially the mega post with all changes)!

    One thing I will say, minor thing, is that the standalone transcept under the DADA tower is added in the third film, not the second- picky, I know but I thought I’d throw it out there

    Thanks for the blog and keep it up man, I’m loving it!


      1. Thanks! It’s still late stages of planning but I plan to start building soon!

        I look forward to seeing more of your work!


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