Sorcerer’s Stone Corrections & More Astronomy Tower

Sorry for the delay in this post. Loooooots of stuff going on in my personal life – some of it really good, some of it not so much.

I was slowly working on the Astronomy tower in the midst of all that when this spectacular YouTube video dropped on the official Wizarding World channel. The never-before-seen photos of the original castle inspired me to revisit some areas, the first of which I documented in this video of my own:

I’ll warn you that it’s a slow video, but I got requests for some modeling without the usual time lapse speedup, so…there ya go. Here’s the unadulterated render from the end of the video.

I’ve got more fixes to make based on the new photos, but I’ll save those for a later post and round this one out with a bit of Astronomy tower progress.

There’s a lot of detail in the main turret where several important Half-Blood Prince scenes take place. Here’s an interesting “deconstructed” view as I start to build the area that also existed as a full-scale set. This is the lower level where Harry hides during the climactic confrontation, but without anything added above it yet:

Funnily enough, this is closer to how the book version of the tower would look, in that it’s got a flat top and crenellated ramparts.

One challenge is that the dimensions of the full-scale set don’t quite match the dimensions of the miniature, at least according to the available blueprints. I’m aiming for something of a happy medium – the goal is for it to look the way it does in the film, if a little less detailed.

Here the arches are starting to take shape. These were a little tricky because of the way they curve:

Continued progress on this tower will also have to wait till a future post, but in the meantime I thought I’d at least share something.

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!

More “Forbidden Journey” Queue Photogrammetry

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of today’s post, here’s a comparison requested by blog reader “The Englanderish.” We’re looking at the original design of this area (left) versus the Goblet of Fire redesign (right), but with their positioning adjusted so that 2the Great Halls line up.

Anyway, let’s build off of this previous post with interior photogrammetry for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey! The Hollywood version, that is. Here’s the single rider queue snaking up to the second floor to rejoin the main queue in the (roughly sized/positioned) Gryffindor common room:

As I’ve described in the past, this photogrammetry is just a tool to provide me with dimensions and layout for areas where I don’t have sufficient technical drawings. I’ve never seen any blueprints of this ride’s queue. So no matter how fragmentary these automatically generated models may be, they’ll be invaluable when I try to actually model everything.

Here’s the start of the Express Pass queue:

This room feels reminiscent of the Chamber of Reception. Not a bad way to make up for skipping the first part of the normal queue. Some of the talking portraits are also duplicated here, in order to provide a similar experience for riders with Express Pass.

The Express Pass queue ends up next to the main queue in Dumbledore’s office. From there they continue into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and proceed toward the Gryffindor common room:

I know it’s confusing to look at. Here’s a mildly helpful plan view of the second floor (first floor, for you Brits) so far:

Still more work to do, but I thought it’d be fun to share my progress.

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!

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 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!

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!