Starting the Hogwarts Landscape!

This post has been delayed by my repetitive strain injuries; progress is definitely slow right now. But as promised, it’s time to share my progress on the terrain surrounding Hogwarts!

The rocky crags have some rather squarish forms, so I thought I’d rough out the geometry with a bunch of separate low-poly rocks:

The idea is to create sections of rock that can be swapped in and out for different films. This entire swath of rock remained mostly unchanged throughout the films, so I was able to base the forms on photogrammetry from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour:

It may look awful like this, but it’s exactly what I was looking for. From there, I was able to start sculpting the individual crags to be more…craglike, and then using Boolean operations to join them into continuous objects for more sculpting. Here are some work-in-progress views:

I was feeling pretty good about this so far, so I started working in smaller details on the left…

…but I didn’t like the way that looked. It’s not the worst thing in the world; it’s just kinda…mushy. Indecisive. I wanted something that looked more confident, intentional, and realistic. I wanted to do better.

Fortunately, I’d saved a copy of the less detailed sculpt, so I went back and tried again. (I’d been reading Adam Savage’s Every Tool’s a Hammer – great book on creativity – and I was feeling fired up about the value of learning through failure and iteration.) This time, I more deeply studied photos of the miniature, as well as photogrammetry of the rockwork at Universal and photos of real coal. (The rocky areas of the miniature were molded from a huge slab of coal.)

The next attempt felt better:

Another difference is that I shaved off some areas on the left – I realized that those changed in Goblet of Fire, and this chunk is just supposed to be the parts that remained the same until Deathly Hallows.

Here I’ve finished that medium-scale detail pass for the whole chunk (and made the temporary gray material less shiny):

The left edge is where the terrain starts to diverge starting in GOF, the top edge is where the terrain changes in COS to accommodate the greenhouses, and the big opening at the lower right is actually how the miniature was built. (In the films, this is generally where the miniature joins up with the surrounding landscape, accomplished through digital matte paintings and CG and whatnot.)

Here’s the same shot with some texturing applied:

I’m calling that chunk finished…for now. I still need to add grass, trees, and shrubs. I also might go in and sculpt a finer, sharper level of detail, probably using textured brushes, but I’m going to see if I can get away with this level for now. It’s always a tradeoff between getting enough detail and avoiding inordinately long render times (and slow overall performance).

Want to watch the whole process come together? Check out the video!

Next I’ll need to apply the same techniques to create the rest of the landscape. Hopefully I’ll have more progress to share soon!


14 thoughts on “Starting the Hogwarts Landscape!

  1. Huh! Coal! I had no idea – I always thought it’d be some kind of lightweight craft material like polystyrene. How’d you find out it was coal? And heck, where’d they get slabs of coal that big, some connection in the coal industry?

    Love the meticulous detail. Keep it up at your own pace, no straining those fingers.


    1. They did carve the big shapes out of polystyrene, yeah, but then the surface was plaster, and that’s where the coal molds came into play. (While it was reportedly a huge slab, my guess is that its shapes were used repeatedly to create the even bigger miniature.) Folks from the production have talked a bit about it in a few interviews; the most detailed info comes from Cinefex magazine, which has incredibly in-depth articles on each Potter film.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I noticed on the HBP version of the terrain there’s a little staircase carved out in the rocks going from where the viaduct meets the long gallery all the way down to the lake, do you have any idea when they added that? My guess would be GOF, because the terrain must’ve changed when the viaduct courtyard replced the chamber of reception, but I’m not sure.


    1. That’s really amazing, didn’t know that.
      Having looked at some videos of the miniature and photos, I can see it, but can’t really see where it begins or where it goes? I know you said the lake but would you say that’s a guess? There seem to be some spots that could be caves etc that it could lead into. Love finding these tiny details!


  3. Cool! Hope your injuries will get better. Could you post some pictures of the castles from directly above? Kind of like blueprint view.


      1. I too can only champion the desire for orthographic views – it helps my map project a lot!

        Oh and speaking of, since a lot of towers have outcroppings and corbels that make them wider at the top, it’d be cool to get some plan views of like halfway up with the roofs and such removed, though obviously that’s hardly a pressing necessity.


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