Hogwarts Landscape Strategizing

Today’s post is mostly a big block of text, so let’s at least start with a few random renders of the project so far:

The viaduct area in Prisoner of Azkaban
The Transfiguration courtyard in Prisoner of Azkaban
The Alnwick Castle-based training grounds in the first two films

Now for some words! Lots of them!

So up till now, my castle models have been floating in the air, hundreds of feet above the lake. But I’ve hit a major milestone in the project: I’ve begun creating the rocky landscape the castle sits on!

Here are some factors informing my approach:

  • Many of the films have shots that repurpose views from previous films. These create significant inconsistencies within individual films. I’m disregarding them altogether.
  • At least for the first six films, the environment really has to be treated as two distinct entities:
    • The terrain that surrounds and supports the main 1:24-scale castle miniature.
      • This terrain was carved out of polystyrene, with rocky outcroppings of plaster molded from slabs of coal.
      • This terrain is quite consistent within each film and changes incrementally between films.
    • The lake and mountains that surround the miniature in the films.
      • Typically, the visual effects team integrated photography of Scotland into digital matte paintings and layered those onto 3D geometry.
      • Unlike the miniature, these CG environments change drastically from one scene to the next, not to mention from one film to the next. (The second film contains a particularly dramatic example: there are two establishing shots that use similar or identical plates of the castle miniature, but the surrounding terrain is totally different.)

The upshot is that you can’t create one single environment that will be 100% consistent with every shot in a given film. You can do it with the miniature, but beyond its borders, it’s literally impossible. So my approach there will be impressionistic. Still, I gathered reference images from each film. I carefully took note of common features between films and annotated them with color coding. I even had fun unrolling some of the panning shots into rough simulacra of the original matte paintings.

But you can only do so much researching and strategizing. Eventually you’ve just got to get started! So I hit the major milestone of starting to model the landscape a few days ago…but I’m going to save the renders for the next post. I should have a video for you as well. Doesn’t look like much yet, but the work has started; I’m just having to pace myself right now because of my repetitive strain injuries. But I didn’t want to go too long without at least posting something.

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21 thoughts on “Hogwarts Landscape Strategizing

  1. Okay now that sounds serious cool!

    I’m going to guess that one of the beyond-model kept elements will be irl Eilean na Moine – where Dumbledore is buried in DHp1, but also where Hagrid tells the main 3 about Buckbeak’s sentencing in PoA. Placing it in the seventh film is basically impossible iirc since the scene uses only the island with three cgi lakes stitched together, but in PoA frfom the scene it’s quite clear and easy since they just blend Hogwarts in the distance onto a spit of land that loosely matches up with the Great Hall’s rocky bed:

    This makes it pretty easy to place as being further along and down the hill from the Willow and Hagrid’s hut – though you’d probably need to trim the spit of land somewhat.

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      1. Well, you’ll see in the next post that my approach is very modular – the terrain will actually be made of separate overlapping stretches of rock. That way I can switch them in and out for different versions. So the first area I’m doing is one that stays the same all the way until DH. From there it’ll be a little of this, a little of that. Gotta make sure all the pieces work together!

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  2. Looking forward to it, what you do about the landscape. Looks all really great so far. The gras with that new nodes in Blender look really cool.

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  3. When I started paying attention to the landscape, the castle’s changes were starting to seem no big deal. The landscape changes SO much. I think it is particularly frustrating if you’re planning to make de Quidditch Field.

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  4. Wow this is timing! I started gathering reference for the Hogwarts grounds (lake especially) just the other day and tried to figure it all out! Always interesting to hear your approaches though

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  5. It would be interesting To recreate shots from last films with the original model, or first films shots with last model. I count the days!

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      1. This is a very interesting idea indeed! I had that in my mind too, all the way back in 2018 when I saw the Viaduct scene at Hogwarts at the end of Crimes of Grindelwald; the aesthetic just doesn’t at up chronologically up to PS. It would be amazing to see if it’s possible to mash/ incorporate the Hogwarts Castle from PS and CoS in the scenes of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, especially the Viaduct scene.


        https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/harrypotter/images/8/83/Hogwarts_Entrance_TCOG.jpeg/revision/latest?cb=20180929203255

        It’s amazing work so far, Joe!

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      2. Thank you! The tough part about the DH scenes is that the characters would have just been standing in midair with the original castle. But I’d still like to show and compare those views!

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  6. Do you think the Ben Nevis miniature has a place somewhere around the landscaping beyond the castle miniature?

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  7. Just a quick unrelated question from one creator to another!
    I know that you’ve studied the model extensively in the studio tour, and a building’s contents is eluding me (a similar situation I was in with the greenhouse dome before you found its contents)

    https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/harrypotter/images/d/de/TrainingGrounds.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130528152658

    It’s the tower on the right. It has broad arches, but annoyingly attempts to see inside seem to continually fail. Given that the Quiddich pitch is fairly close by, and that those stairs more or less point to it, I had assumed it might be something to do with quidditch storage. Have you chanced upon any illuminating photos that could help to this end?
    Thanks!

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    1. Since the image link is borken, convenient replacement, the tower being asked about is the foreground rightmost tower that the training ground steps snake around:

      Don’t ask how I know the urls of the wiki so well. 😉

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    2. That is indeed a tough one. So, either the OOTP game or the HBP game lets you go through there; can’t remember which. They created an interior with stairs and a passageway to the Quidditch pitch, I think. But I don’t think those stairs are there in the miniature. It was probably just created for the game. In any case, I’ve never found any really good shots of that structure’s interior, but what I have glimpsed has just been blank stone walls. My version has a floor and exterior walls and that’s about it.

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      1. That’s helpful to know! I think that given that the area is hardly seen close up in any of the films, let alone in HBP, it’s safe to say they just didn’t do an interior as it wasn’t needed for any shots.
        Can’t wait to see the terrain progress by the way, I’ve been scratching my head a lot at terrain and the location of the quiddich pitch. Your photogrammetry you showed in your video was really good though, it’s so interesting to see a location some distance from the castle put into some spatial relation, I’d love to see more photogrammetry previews in any future videos you make!
        Great stuff again

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      2. The terrain beyond the miniature certainly is challenging, isn’t it? I’ve assembled my references for that, but I’m planning to only tackle it once I’ve done the miniature stuff. It’s gonna be rough on my perfectionist brain, since no matter what I do, I’ll have to contradict some shots.

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