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!

(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 Quad & Viaduct Areas

The next additions to the Goblet of Fire castle were the “pepperpot” and the foundations of the viaduct courtyard:

I like that angle!

Next, I moved back around the backside of the Great Hall to begin adding the quad building. The south wall was changed in GOF – a new archway acts as another entry into the quad itself.

Speaking of the quad interior, check out this POA/GOF before-and-after:

I should reiterate that some parts of this are a little speculative…I don’t know for sure that the lower floor, the cloisters, and the fountain were still there in POA. But the best evidence seems to point toward that being the case. And as a reminder, the balustrade toward the bottom left in the POA version is pretty speculative too. And of course, if you’ve played the video games a lot, the lack of cloisters on the right might look pretty weird, but as far as I can tell they never came back after POA.

I’m starting to notice an interesting shift in myself. I’ve tended to think of myself as having an especially big soft spot for the first few castle designs. But as I move the virtual camera around my growing model of the GOF castle, I’m appreciating its aesthetic more and more. It holds up really well from a lot of angles. They did a really good job of choosing camera angles that flatter the earlier castle designs, obscuring some of the clunkier elements. But the GOF castle doesn’t really have many bad angles to begin with.

Anyway, here you can see me preparing to add the viaduct:

And now with the viaduct in place:

It may seem like that would be a simple matter of dropping in the existing viaduct, but it actually took some effort. The switch from the Chamber of Reception to the courtyard causes the whole viaduct to swivel a little, and I had to compress it a bit to fit the new angle. I wonder if the original modelmakers had to rebuild the whole viaduct from scratch or if they were able to squeeze the original viaduct into that space somehow?

Anyway, my next move was to drop in a whole bunch of stuff from the POA model that didn’t change for GOF, creating a much more complete castle:

As part of those efforts, I also finally added a missing detail at the base of the Dark Tower – a little entry stairwell that’s hard to find shots of. Here’s my best attempt at bringing it to life, based on the available information:

The main elements the GOF castle still needs are the owlery, the boathouse steps, and the terrain. Saving those for a future post!

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!

Starting the Back Cliffs & Ravine

We’ve now got four chunks of Hogwarts’s original terrain finished. In my model, they’re divided as follows:

The blue chunk below the viaduct entrance is separate from the purple chunk below the Long Gallery because the blue chunk was redone in Goblet of Fire. The gold and green chunks on the other side could have been combined with each other and/or the blue chunk, but separating them improves sculpting performance.

The next chunk I added was a small patch that’s exclusive to Prisoner of Azkaban. They slightly built up the area just beneath the corner of the Great Hall, giving it a slightly different profile. (All of this terrain had to be redone when the Great Hall was shifted in Goblet of Fire, but the redesign was more similar to the POA version than to the original.)

Sorcerer’s Stone on the left, Prisoner of Azkaban on the right:

Another view:

But there were bigger changes in POA, of course. When they added the clock tower, wooden bridge, and so on, the surrounding terrain was totally redone. So in creating the bluffs that originally led down to the lake back there, I have to be able to swap them out with the POA version without affecting the adjacent terrain (shown in green above).

Techniques here are the same as what we’ve already seen, although it’s interesting to see the updated rock textures (sans moss) on the base mesh…

This is where photogrammetry stops being useful and I just have to closely study the few available reference images. (Blueprints aren’t super helpful either, since the terrain only follows them very, very roughly.) Another complication is that some VFX shots actually cut off parts of the miniature, particularly in this area; in those cases, I’m trying to treat the complete miniature itself as canon.

More base mesh:

No, you’re not crazy – the mesh protrudes right through the walls of the terrace in some spots. That’ll be fixed soon enough; it’s not hard to shave off excess landscape.

What’s going to be harder is the ravine between the two halves of the castle. That’s where even photo reference starts to dry up, at least for this original version of the castle. Photogrammetry from the big overhead shot in Chamber of Secrets will help me with the north side of the ravine, so I decided to work on that before trying to tackle the south side:

Meanwhile, around the front side, I’ve finally added the tiny lower walkway that seems to curve through the base of the stone bridge:

Sadly, I still can’t find any clear, reliable, pre-POA information on where exactly that walkway goes on the other side of the bridge. I’m starting to think that the one available SS-era floor plan of this area isn’t accurate.

This post is getting long…I’ll save further progress for the next one!

Back to Work

Well…the 2-3 weeks of computer rest didn’t do much good, sadly. We’re continuing to pursue other treatment options. In the meantime, I’ve been easing back into a bit of computer use, and I thought I’d share some of my (slow) progress with the terrain beneath the Sorcerer’s Stone castle.

Here I’ve resumed adding the next layer of detail to the area under the Great Hall:

I admit detailing everything manually was getting tiresome, so I finally started making use of this fabulous rock sculpting brush set from Blend Swap. I figure if the original modelmakers could use a mold of a big slab of coal, there’s nothing wrong with me using some photoscanned rocks for additional texture. This can be a good way to expedite the process of adding the countless tiny crags and crevices to the major forms I’ve sculpted. Then I can go back in and sculpt more details myself where necessary.

Blender’s “geometry nodes” system is getting better and better, so I started setting up a node tree that would add greenery to the top faces of the rocks:

Still needs work, but we’re headed in the right direction. I’ll round out today’s post with another angle and different time of day:

See you next time…hopefully before too long!

Continuing the Original Hogwarts Landscape

Still having RSI issues, but fortunately, sculpting doesn’t seem to aggravate them too much if I stick to the Wacom stylus in the right hand and the 3D mouse in the left. Anyway, more base meshes to be sculpted into the Hogwarts terrain:

You can see that I switched over to the first film’s castle there. I love the way the cliffs just under the back of the Great Hall buckle inward. They create a really cool silhouette that you can see in the first couple films. That area underwent small changes in Prisoner of Azkaban and then bigger changes in Goblet of Fire. It ended up with a convex shape that I find…more realistic, but less interesting. In fact, I think that whole corner of the terrain looks best in the early versions. It’s got some cool, designy rhythms to it, with asymmetrical outcroppings leading your eye upward to the Great Hall. They’re not as evident in the base mesh, of course:

We’re off the edge of the map here. Literally – I don’t have any technical drawings that go all the way out to this corner. But that doesn’t really matter, because it turns out the drawings aren’t very accurate for the terrain anyway. I don’t have any photogrammetry of this version of this area either, so it’s just a lot of flipping back and forth between different reference photos (with different lighting, focal lengths, resolutions, image quality, etc.) and trying to match every angle I can. It’s definitely a challenge. But it’ll be worth it to be able to showcase the way the landscape changes around the castle!

Anyway, that completes the base mesh for this chunk of the terrain…time to sculpt! I was a little nervous about the terrain on the two sides of the boathouse stairs matching up, since I’m building in two completely separate chunks. So it was exciting to see them starting to visually come together as if they’re one continuous landmass!

One of the amusing parts of this technique is just how insanely weird the undersides get:

It becomes very obvious that I started out by mushing a bunch of blocky shapes together, with no regard for how the bottom looks. Why not clean it up? I might at some point. But it’d probably be more work than it’s worth. I’m gonna stay focused on the parts that are visible.

The render below really showcases the difference in detail between my first sculpting pass and my second. The stuff to the right of the boathouse steps has had the second pass, while the stuff to the left hasn’t had it yet:

Even so, that’s starting to look positively Hogwartian!

This was the point at which I jinxed things by being too excited about the results I was getting. Something went wrong and shifted the whole cliff out of alignment in a weird way…twice. Still not sure how it happened. I had to revert to an earlier auto-save and redo a bunch of work in the area below…twice. Definitely frustrating. But it would have been way worse if not for the auto-saves…thanks, Blender!

That completed the first sculpting pass for this whole chunk of terrain beneath the Great Hall. The more detailed second pass should be in the next post!

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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