Starting the Astronomy Tower

I’ve long known that this structure would get at least one post to itself. It’s big, and so rich with detail! It’s also a weird throwback for me – the first render I did for this project was of the astronomy tower. Or at least, a simple proof of concept. Funnily enough, I never seem to have shared that render, so here it is in all its glory:

Beautiful, I know. 😉

Anyway, as you may know, the original Hogwarts featured the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower – so named by fans because a pullback in GOF implies that Moody’s office is in there. This structure moved but remained fundamentally unchanged all the way until HBP, at which point it was removed, redesigned, and reincarnated as the taller, fancier astronomy tower, which sits where the Dark Tower sat for years 3–5.

From the beginning, the books describe this tower as the castle’s tallest, located very close to the main entrance. The top has crenellated ramparts and a door to a spiral staircase. That’s about all we get. Since the tower was never featured in the first five films, its location, appearance, and even its existence weren’t established in the film canon. But all that had to change in HBP. The filmmakers needed an iconic tower from which a certain somebody could fall in the film’s climax.

As described in my recent blueprint appreciation post, we have some great elevations, sections, and plans for the final design:

It was thus tempting to just build based on these, but I decided to still assemble other references as usual. I was glad I did, because there are details visible in real life that aren’t in those drawings. I even found a few spots where they added extra windows or whatnot. Another complication is that the tower was created at 1:24 and 1:10 scales, plus (I suspect) an even larger miniature or CG asset for the nighttime shot that ascends past Ron, Lavender, and Draco. (That last version has a different design that I’ll ignore.) And then of course there was the full-scale set. I decided to aim for roughly the amount of detail on the main 1:24 miniature, while still paying attention to the others.

Anyway, I captured part of the process in this time lapse:

Or if you just want to look through some renders, enjoy these!

Still more work to do, but it’s a good start!

Quad Interior Fixes & Starting “Half-Blood Prince”

Short post for today!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not sure about some of the details inside the quad. It’s hard to find good reference. One particularly mysterious spot has been the wall that cuts the southeast corner at a 45° angle in this old render:

But then I found this video from Plowman Craven, a company that worked on some of the films. About halfway through, there are partial CG models of the OOTP castle. The last few frames of one of the shots give a low-res view of part of that wall. It’s not much, but along with the other glimpses we have, a better sense of what that wall looks like is starting to emerge.

First of all, I’m taking this as confirmation that the big window to the marble staircase was really there – and slightly higher than where I had it. There’s also a horizontal ledge just above it, and the top of the wall descends toward the right. This actually shows up vaguely in a few other images, now that I look again. It even looks like there might be multiple levels to the flat triangular roof area.

Anyway, I still don’t have anywhere near as close a look as I’d like, but here’s my revised attempt at recreating that wall as it might have appeared in the first three films.

In GOF through HBP, it would have looked similar; the floor was just moved up and the cloister removed.

Speaking of HBP…let’s start that version of the castle! There were numerous changes in this film, but by the far the most prominent one in the final cut of the film is the new astronomy tower. Here I’m prepping the surrounding areas:

The Durham section’s central tower (toward the right) has been shortened by 24 feet so that there are only 3 rows of small windows in the middle section rather than 5. I’d imagine this was for the sake of balancing the silhouette with the new astro tower.

But that tower is going to be a project unto itself, so I think I’ll save that for the next post!

(Almost) All OOTP Changes in One Post!

Hogwarts didn’t change much in Order of the Phoenix; I was able to knock out the major changes in no time.

GOF on the left, OOTP on the right, and you can slide to compare:

As you can see, the south side of the quad building was changed. (The poor little GOF version only lasted one film!) I suspect this was because the quad floor was raised quite a bit in (I believe) GOF. The other change noticeable from that view was the addition of spires at the corners of the clock tower courtyard, on the far left.

Here’s another comparison, with SS on the left and OOTP on the right, to show how far we’ve come in the first five films:

(The SS landscape has been hidden to make it a “fair” comparison with the OOTP version, which doesn’t have any landscape yet.)

Anyway, back to GOF vs. OOTP:

We can see here the other big changes: the steepening of the spires at the viaduct entrance, the addition of a couple new spires, and the addition of Snape’s window, in the dungeon level just to the right of the stone bridge. These tweaks were all featured in a single shot that pulls out of Snape’s office, through the window, and up into the snowy sky above Hogwarts, past the steep spires.

Otherwise, Snape’s window is pretty hard to glimpse; it’s basically out of sight at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, and there are no other exterior shots of it in the films that I can think of. So here’s a closer view of my recreation:

At close range like this, you can see that the tracery on some of the windows is pretty flat. But I only have so much time to devote to this project, and I’m already drowning in polygons.

Anywhoodle, let’s wrap up with another SS vs. OOTP comparison, showing the whole castle.

Same castle, but…not! Which is kinda the whole point of this project, I suppose, haha.

By the way, I’ve been careful with my phrasing in this post, because these are not ALL the changes in OOTP. The stone circle by the wooden bridge mysteriously disappeared (only to reappear in future films), but I haven’t built the stone circle yet so there was nothing to remove. I also may build Hogsmeade Station when I build the environment, and that got a brand-new design and location in this film.

Owlery Time!

Back to the main castle model!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire saw the addition of the owlery. It sits apart from the rest of Hogwarts Castle, on a steep outcropping of rock that was added atop an existing hill. Interestingly enough, this little tower never went through any changes after being added (as far as I can tell), so I’m only having to build it the one time.

Some of the details are rather tricky to work out. Kinda hard to find detailed photography of some parts of the structure. And the architecture is a little different from the rest of the castle, too – after all, it’s built for birds, not for people. It’s very…airy. Lots of complicated holes and ledges. That’s great for letting owls in and out, but it does mean the interior is more likely to be visible, so I have to pay more attention to the interior geometry than usual for this project.

Here, some of those holes are starting to take shape:

There’s not enough detail there for it to look right, though. It’s more recognizable in the next render:

The other side has a similar set of openings:

Then just a few more details bring the owlery itself to a finished state!

I say “owlery itself” because I haven’t yet built the steps leading up to the owlery. These are going to be tricky. They don’t show up in any of the blueprints I’ve seen, and good photo reference is pretty hard to find. I’ll probably have to look into whether the versions in the video games seem accurate, and maybe rely on those. Anyway, I’ll save the steps for a future post.

For today, we’ll wrap up with a couple of impossible views. Ever wondered where the owlery was in relation to the old Quidditch training grounds?

Now you know!

GOF Boathouse Stairs

I’m back! I’ve been way too busy to put much time into Hogwarts, but I’ve been able to sneak in enough moments here and there to have an update for today.

Big staircases with lots of landings and odd angles aren’t necessarily super fun for me, but they’ve gotta be done. The GOF version of the boathouse stairs kept the same look as the original, but they were all reconfigured so they could meet up with the viaduct courtyard. They only changed once more, in DH, when the viaduct courtyard and boathouse both changed.

I started cannibalizing bits and pieces of my original build to create the GOF version, working from the bottom up:

At this point, it was just about getting the pieces in place. I knew I’d fix all the spots where they intersect once I had the overall setup right.

As I finished arranging the different flights and landings, I was surprised to discover that the steps were vertically overshooting the viaduct courtyard by a significant margin. On the left is the too-tall version; on the right is the same thing after squashing the whole thing down a bit:

Then it was just a matter of clipping off all the extra bits so the pieces actually fit together neatly – the most tedious step of them all – and adding the flambeaux that light the way. Here are the complete GOF steps on the right, compared to their predecessors on the left:

We’ll wrap up for today with an interesting plan view of the GOF castle, with the original boathouse steps superimposed as well:

Hoping my next update will not take this long!

GOF Viaduct Courtyard Area

When we last saw the Goblet of Fire Hogwarts model, I had grabbed some elements from the clock tower area and duplicated them in front of the Great Hall. Since then, I’ve adapted those elements to create the new entrance hall and viaduct courtyard.

Here’s the fixed-up version (right); slide to compare it to the render from last time, just showing the unaltered clock tower and courtyard elements (left):

(Ignore the way the “link building” roof gets steeper; that’s just a fix because I realized I’d made it too low.)

Here’s are some miscellaneous shots around the area:

This next one gives a good sense of what details I put into the clock, as well as what details I didn’t:

Conspicuously missing in that last render is the “pepperpot” building next to the Great Hall – hence the gap in the balustrade toward the right side, immediately adjacent to the courtyard. I think I’ll probably be adding that building next.

Starting the “Goblet of Fire” Castle!

If you’ve followed this project for a while, you know I jump around a lot. I’ve got a master “to do” list, but sometimes I get bored with an item – or, in the case of the walkways and cliffs from last time, sometimes I run out of references. So I decided to jump over to an all-new phase of the project: creating the Goblet of Fire iteration of Hogwarts!

I started with the south end, where the Great Hall is. Some of the surrounding structures didn’t change at all from the previous film, so I ported those over. But the Great Hall itself got tweaked and slightly repositioned. Let’s start with just the design changes – easier to compare the Halls when they’re still in the same spot.

Original on the left, GOF redesign on the right:

The main difference is that the front was lengthened. This section with the bigger window corresponds to the entrance hall, a set that didn’t really fit very clearly into any part of the original Great Hall/Chamber of Reception structure. When the length was extended, the dormer windows and central turret on the roof were adjusted to keep things visually centered. The turret at the back/top of the hall was also redesigned as well as duplicated at the front of the structure.

So that’s the new design. What about the new position? Well, it’s easiest to show that by overlaying the GOF Great Hall onto the original castle:

The original position is the one that’s higher up and closer to the big marble staircase tower. The new position allowed for a redesigned “link building” between the entrance hall and the marble staircase tower – again, better matching the interior sets – and put the Great Hall closer the same level as the viaduct and its new courtyard. (Originally, the Great Hall was significantly higher than the viaduct; students had to climb all those Oxford stairs in the Chamber of Reception to get up to the Great Hall.)

Here I’ve added the link building:

The reason the rest of the GOF castle is missing is simple: I’m doing it one structure at a time, whether that means simply making its previous version visible or actually building new stuff.

The next structures to tackle are the new front of the Great Hall/entrance hall building (replacing the Chamber of Reception) and the viaduct courtyard. I believe the courtyard was brought to life by redressing the clock tower courtyard set from the previous film. I started this area by duplicating and repositioning the corresponding elements from the clock tower area, resulting in…this:

Yeah, the clock tower is definitely taller than the Great Hall. Lots of other things to tweak, too. All that and more in a future post – make sure you hit the Follow button (at the bottom of the page on mobile, to the right on desktop) to get notified of new updates!

More Terrain Work

Sculpting, sculpting, sculpting…slowly, with many hours of rest to avoid aggravating my stupid arms…

Wrapping up the sculpting on this chunk of landscape:

Here’s an overhead view of the terrain so far. Play with the slider to compare the render (left) to a quasi-topological map (right):

The terrain just doesn’t look right, though, does it? I’ve been having a really hard time getting the colors of the rocks and foliage right. If I match one reference photo, it stops matching another…if I match one film, it stops matching another….if I match one lighting scheme, it stops matching another…if I match the rocks, it stops matching the foliage. Pretty tricky.

With more tweaks in this next render, we’re getting closer…

Then I paid a visit to textures.com and grabbed some rock photos. I scrambled those up together and used them to add a little photographic grit to my existing procedural rock texture.

We’re getting there! I’ll keep working on that texture. I also need to add some moss to the castle walls where they meet the rock.

Ending today with an unrelated render – I added a few more details inside the boathouse.

I reeeaaaally haven’t built this interior to hold up to this sort of scrutiny, so enjoy the rare close-up!

More Landscape

Let’s continue adding the terrain! Almost all the land from the viaduct clockwise around to the south side of the quad building changed in Goblet of Fire. That’s when the Great Hall was relocated, the viaduct courtyard replaced the Chamber of Reception, the viaduct itself changed angles slightly, and boathouse steps were reconfigured, and the footpath up to the south side of the quad building was added. I mean, the basic idea is still the same, but it changed enough that I’m going to need to do a separate sculpt for the GOF version.

Anyway, what you see here is the beginnings of the version from the first three films. (I happen to have the POA castle visible here, but it could have been any of the first three versions.)

It can be an interesting challenge to divide the terrain into these blocky shapes, especially for areas where the reference images are few and photogrammetry isn’t possible. But I’m really glad I’ve chosen this approach. It forces me to think about the big forms first – a critical skill in both 2D and 3D art, and one I sometimes neglect.

As you can see, I didn’t worry about the spots where these blocks overlapped with the boathouse stairs – I knew I’d be able to carve out the appropriate sections later. Right now, I’m only focused on everything to the right of the stairs:

In fact, as the first sculpting pass begins, you can see I’m not even touching anything to the left of the stairs:

That’s all just overflow, soon to be clipped off and replaced with a separate sculpt for that side of the stairs. By the way, the techniques here are exactly the same as the ones I previously used in this video, albeit with less photogrammetry reference. I know I could get away with following the original landscape less closely overall, but I’m trying to keep it close – partially because it’s fun, partially to indulge my perfectionism, and partially because this way I’ll be able to show how the terrain changed along with the castle.

I was relieved to find that my plan for splitting the landscape into chunks should indeed work. The seam isn’t completely invisible in this render, but it should become less obvious with further detailing and finessing:

Speaking of which…next came further detailing and finessing! I clipped off all that excess rock to the left of the stairs and sculpted smaller ridges and crags:

That render reminds me that my lake water material will need more work. It’s also a clear illustration of the difference that detailing makes – notice how I haven’t touched the rocks toward the bottom right yet, and they, like…suck.

I fixed that next!

That brings all this terrain to a consistent level of detail. I must admit, I’m realizing that some of it’s getting a little too…sedimentary. I started really going for it with the strata in some places, but when I return to the photo references for the miniature, the rock has a rather different character to it. It may help if/when I use textured sculpting brushes to add the next level of fine detail? We’ll see.

Anyway, we’ll wrap up with some orthographic views of the POA castle so far! (Backsides and undersides of the terrain have been removed for clarity.)

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!