Starting the Whomping Willow (COS Version)

Let’s recreate the original Whomping Willow! It was added to the training grounds in COS. That location – and even the tree’s very presence in the miniature – is unique to to that film. (In all the later films, the redesigned Whomping Willow was off the edge of the map, somewhere past Hagrid’s, and it was brought to life purely through CG and full-scale practical elements.)

The first step was to figure out the exact placement. I don’t have any floor plans that show precisely where it sat in relation to the other structures, but one of the behind-the-scenes features does give a decent shot of that area of the miniature. I lined up the camera angles and added a circle to mark the base of the tree. It seems to be just about dead center in that lawn! This further reinforces my belief that this area’s walls were redesigned for the express purpose of giving the Willow a more interesting setting. They almost create a kind of arena around it.

Next up: creating a base mesh. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to match the tree in the film perfectly, but I wanted to capture its essential rhythms, character, and scale. I ended up annotating film screenshots with color-coded numbers to help me keep track of the different major branches. It’s a strategy that served me well with the grand staircase model.

I carried that color coding into the model itself as I started the base mesh. As with the tree in the clock tower courtyard, I decided to use the Skin modifier in Blender. This lets you quickly extrude chains of vertices and apply a basic radius parameter to each, creating blocky forms that become tubular with the Subdivision Surface modifier. Here are a couple of work-in-progress shots:

As you can see, the base mesh is SUPER photorealistic. Can’t even tell it’s not a real tree! …right? (My girlfriend says it looks like a piece of corporate modern art, and I don’t disagree.)

Don’t worry, things started to get a little better as I Boolean-ed all the branches into one object and began the sculpting process.

There appear to be some stony areas at the base. I experimented with sculpting them all as one mass. When that didn’t look right, I tried using physics simulation to “drop” all the stones on top of each other in a realistic pile. But sometimes simplest is best, and in the end, it was most expedient to separately sculpt each rock and lay them on top of each other manually. Another pass of Skinned tubes allowed me to start blocking in the tree’s tangled roots:

Obviously very rough; the idea is just to build some geometry that will take well to further sculpting. And while I admit I wasn’t SUPER excited about this switch from hard surface to organic modeling, I soon found myself enjoying the sculpting process once more. It’s gratifying to see these basic shapes start to look like something!

This was around when I realized my proportions were a little off. The main trunk needed to be a little bigger relative to all the branches. I made some adjustments and kept sculpting, working my way up into the knuckles and knobs where all the younger shoots will soon go:

None of this is an absolutely perfect match with the film, but I’m certainly trying to stay close. That crevice on the left side of the trunk is based on one visible in the film; in my headcanon, that’s where the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack is. (We only see the entrance to the tunnel in the next film, and the Willow was redesigned for that one.)

By the way, in case it’s not obvious, I haven’t started texturing the tree or the rocks yet. The flat coloration is just temporary while I continue refining the forms. I’ll save all that for the next post, as well as the addition of all the shoots on top that’ll really give the tree its characteristic look. But I think we’re off to a good start!

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14 thoughts on “Starting the Whomping Willow (COS Version)

  1. Looking at the last image, I still can’t believe how they messed up with some parts of the castle.
    I’m so in love with those training grounds and the Whomping Willow fits perfectly there. I wish they kept it here (as well as Hagrid’s hut) and replaced the front part of the TGT with the clock tower (which is one of my favorite building) as the facades of both building kinda match. This way, they could’ve kept the east terrasse and middle tower in the back of the Quad and put the owlery there…
    Anyway, can’t wait to see your version of the WW finished! 🙂

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  2. I like how it looks already, I can’t wait to see the tree complete. You said you used boolean to merge the branches into one object, I though that modifier was used to make holes in things?
    I also saw that you might be missing a door in the suspension bridge tower.

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    1. There are multiple Boolean operations. One of them does indeed “subtract” one object from another, which is great for carving holes and whatnot. Here, I was referring to another operation that simply combines intersecting objects into a single continuous surface.

      Good catch on the door – I’ll add it. Thank you!

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      1. I never noticed that! That’s another surprise.

        Also in my search to check, I made a very “huuuuuh” discovery:

        In the establishing shot before Draco’s first cabinet scene where dementors try and break the school’s defences in the HBP film, the Training Grounds Tower seems to still be on the model.

        What’s mode, in Dumbledore’s fall off the Astronomy tower, while it looks like the spire they replaced the TGT with is there, there’s also some other structure to the south of it, where the TGT would meet the side of the roofline on that side previously.

        Never seen any such thing on any other model pics – I have a feeling they played around a lot with that part of the castle, but whatever it was going to be for never made it into the film. Maybe Aragog’s burial was going to be there before changing it to the Clock Tower hillside? Harry does stop by the Herbology greenhouses for Slughorn on the way after all.

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  3. Too bad they changed so many things, including the position of the whomping willow…
    I’m really happy with the updates, hope that you can keep finding the time to work on this project! Thank you!!!!

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    1. See, I actually really enjoy the changes…they’re what give me creative fuel for this whole project! That’s not to say that I think all the changes are improvements, but I think it’s cool to have multiple versions of the castle to compare.

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      1. Yeah I can see what you mean. I just wish they kept it a bit more consistent… But It’s really cool to see the changes especially in 3D and with those awesome before and after sliders!

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    2. I honestly like the willow’s new home from PoA onwards – its CoS housing is kinda hilariously unsafe positioning. As for other changes, hit and miss IMO, though there’s very few I actively dislike as castle elements. [Glares sharply at the spire that replaced the TGT and the DH excessive mcmansion courtyard/viaduct]

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  4. Hey! I’m just wanna say that I’m in love with your brick texture.
    I would love to buy it to use in my own castle! And of course, give you credit for it
    is that an option?

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