South Wing Odds ‘n’ Ends

As we’ve seen, POA featured some significant additions to the castle’s architecture, many of which were anchored by the new clock tower in the southwest corner. The last remaining piece of this section was the small gatehouse at the end of the wooden bridge. This came together easily; the only real question was how big to make the torch, since its size (relative to the building) differs significantly between the miniature and the full-sized set built at Glencoe. I ended up using the same scale as some of the castle’s other torches, which resulted in me kinda splitting the difference between the two sizes.

Believe it or not, that brings the POA additions to something of a complete state!

The south wing as a whole is still not complete, since I haven’t touched the quad interior due to scarcity of reference material. I also still need to add the walkway that connects the Chamber of Reception to the quad, but I’m holding off for the same reason.

Knowing this, I decided it was just about time to turn my attention to the castle’s north wing, much of which is derived from Durham Cathedral and Alnwick Castle. There were just a few odds ‘n’ ends to finish up first, like the fleur-de-lis pattern at the back of the Great Hall (bottom right):

Another miscellaneous item was the tree in the clock tower courtyard where Buckbeak’s executioner sits to sharpen his blade. It was fun creating its forking, branching paths by hand, following what we see in the film for the trunk and larger branches, then just going crazy with the smaller branches. I allowed Blender’s Skin modifier to bulk it all out into a basic three-dimensional form:

Whoops…I realized I’d forgotten to add the steps leading up from the courtyard to the wooden bridge. I added those, sculpted a bit more detail into the tree trunk, and used a particle system to add some leaves.

Next came ivy to help the courtyard feel a little more overgrown and wild:

I also spent some time grappling with Blender’s Mantaflow fluid simulation engine, trying to get convincing smoke to furl from the castle’s chimneys. It took the better part of a day for me to figure out that my baking errors stemmed from an apostrophe in the cache folder path (a folder descriptively named “Joe’s Stuff”). With that finally resolved, I was able to get some smoke in there:

After all the frustration, I really like how it turned out! I think that’s a nice note upon which to end the work on the south wing, at least till I can find more reference for the POA-era quad. Next we turn to the north wing, starting with the Durham section!


Completing the Wooden Bridge (POA Edition)

With the basic structure of the wooden bridge in place, I next set out to adjust the support beams below. The bridge spans a ravine and its cross beam patterns do vary. Paying close attention to their arrangement in the original miniature, I first modified the half closest to the castle:

Then it was just a matter of duplicating the structure to the far side and tweaking a spot where it’s not quite symmetrical:

This brings the bridge to a complete state…at least, without all the shaky imperfections that give the original its charm. Time to get those in there.

My weapon of choice was Blender’s Mesh Deform modifier, a nondestructive tool that allows you to manipulate one object’s shape and have it affect the shape of another. I created a much, much simpler version of the bridge – really just a 3D envelope to roughly surround it – and manually pushed different sections around to approximate the swaying structure seen in the films. Blender obligingly shifted the detailed model of the bridge to match.

Just for fun, here’s the simplified envelope visualized with a translucent material around the actual bridge model, prior to any distortion:

And when I warped that envelope (twice due to some annoying lost work), it made the detailed bridge underneath look this!

(This is after breaking apart the roof into some separate chunks with their own local coordinates so that the shingle texture would map correctly onto them.)

I’m feeling quite happy with this! It’ll look a lot better once I’ve added terrain, of course. And even just adding the gatehouse at the other end will help. I think that’ll be my next task.

Completed: Clock Tower & Hospital Wing

Short post today. I finished the clock tower! The only two pieces I still needed to add were the big window in back and the enormous pendulum that hangs down through the entry. Both are now in place! (I’d avoided the window for ages because I couldn’t find a clear shot of the tracery. Then I randomly came across a shot of a window at King’s College Chapel and realized that it was the exact same design. Problem solved!)

Around the other side of the building, I’ve been really hesitant to finish the hospital wing because the placement of the detailing toward the bottom will depend on the detailing of the surrounding quad walls, and I haven’t been able to add those due to insufficient reference. But I bit the bullet and at least took care of the top section:

I’ll still need to add the windows and so forth down below once I’m able to complete the quad. In the meantime, I’m gearing up to probably tackle the (gulp!) wooden bridge next.

More Clock Tower Courtyard

After creating the major building blocks of the clock tower courtyard, it was just a matter of carefully putting them all together. Here’s a first render with the modeling all finished:

This, of course, is the courtyard in relatively pristine condition, but it’s supposed to be rather run-down and overgrown. As with the fountain, I used Boolean modifiers to knock out chunks of the appropriate walls and arches. The great thing about this method of destruction is it’s…well, non-destructive. Everything is still there – it’s just hidden.

As I added some different ground textures, I also started layering in vegetation – a first for this project. Blender’s hair simulation allowed me to grow pretty satisfactory grass along the courtyard. I weight-painted the distribution so so it would clump around the fountain, walls, and columns. This clumping does vary between films and between sets/miniatures; I aimed to split the difference in a way that felt natural. (I haven’t worked much with particle systems…imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that my render times barely took a hit!)

It’ll need more work, but it’s more grass than I had before!

The Clock Tower Courtyard

Let’s return to the clock tower courtyard. With the fountain in the center finished, I decided to now enclose it with the courtyard itself. Existing as a full-scale set and as miniatures at 1:24 and 1:10 scales, the courtyard was designed for the third Potter film and is surrounded by aged cloisters and overgrown vegetation. There’s a lot of complex geometry to capture. I compared photogrammetry, production stills, technical drawings, film frames, shots from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, the similar courtyard in front of the castle in films 4-6, the larger version thereof in the final film, etc., etc. Eventually, I felt like I had a decent understanding of the space.

One thing I’d never noticed before was that there are actually two different designs to the arched tracery of the cloisters:

The one on the right is taken directly from Durham Cathedral, lending stylistic unity with the location shoots from the first two films. I’m not sure if the one on the left is taken from a real-world location, but it’s certainly very similar to a lot of real Gothic tracery out there. That one is used primarily in the sections of these cloisters without a roof.

As with the fountain, my first task was to create the courtyard in a more-or-less pristine state, without any of the damage or erosion to be added later. (Adding the ground is a logical last step so I don’t have to worry about it blocking my view of the blueprints beneath the model.) Notice how the last arch on the right has the Durham tracery design:

The courtyard has elongated gargoyles placed at intervals around its interior, and while they look similar, there are actually two designs that alternate: a hippogriff and a centaur, although they’re so stylized that I had to study them for a while to figure out what they were depicting.

When they repurposed the clock tower courtyard set for the viaduct courtyard after Prisoner of Azkaban, they kept these gargoyles in place, providing a lot more visual reference. (Interestingly, while the gargoyles also made it into the larger version of the viaduct courtyard for Deathly Hallows, their features are much more sharply defined and less eroded in this version. I decided to split the difference for the purposes of my model.)

For the centaur design, I even had the benefit of a pretty accurate orthographic drawing published in The Art of Harry Potter. I based my Blender sculpt on that drawing and then baked a normal map onto a simplified version, much like I did for the fountain statues, although I didn’t bother with manual retopology – I knew this guy would never need to be rigged, posed, or animated, so I just let the Remesh modifier take care of the simplified topology for me. Anyway, you’ve already seen me go through this with the fountain statues, so instead of boring you with similar images, I’ll share this unique WIP view of the centaur sculpt from the inside:

Enjoy your nightmares.

Anyway, here’s the completed centaur design in situ, with some procedural noise layered onto the normal map baked from the sculpt:

I made the mistake of not putting much work into the base mesh before sculpting this guy, so there were some areas of the sculpt that got dicey. The hippogriff fared better because I took the time to create a proper base mesh, like I had with the eagle sculpt. See, what a cutie! (I didn’t have original ortho drawings for this one, so I was wingin’ it. Heh.)

I tried to again use the Remesh modifier for my lower-poly version, but it didn’t work as well on this fella. Sharp parts like the beak and claws did not work well at all. Back to manual retopology! Oh well, it’s good practice, and a good opportunity to improve upon some of the poor topology on the eagle statue. My brain is not wired to easily just throw down perfect edge loops.

By the way, if the term “normal map” doesn’t mean anything to you, here’s what the one for the hippogriff gargoyle looks like:

The different colors essentially tell the software to pretend the surfaces point in slightly different directions than they actually do, thereby simulating details that aren’t actually there. Blender “bakes” these maps by comparing the surface of the simplified mesh to the original sculpt.

Here’s the end result:

The tricky thing with this one is that the front legs seem to have fallen off many of the gargoyles in the clock tower courtyard and the original viaduct courtyard, but the ones in the larger Deathly Hallows viaduct courtyard are intact. I think I’m just gonna keep the legs for the time being.

Here’s where we’ll leave off for today. In a future post, we’ll build the remaining walls of the courtyard and damage the appropriate areas.

Starting the Ruined Fountain

Prisoner of Azkaban‘s clock tower courtyard has a large fountain in the center, featuring arched pediments and four statues of birds eating snakes. [EDIT: Many thanks to bentarr1 for pointing out that the golden eagle devouring a rattlesnake is an important symbol in Mexican culture, ostensibly a tribute to Alfonso Cuarón’s nationality.] Like the rest of the courtyard, the fountain has seen better days – whole chunks of it have crumbled away. This makes for a different challenge than the rest of the castle, which has an aged look but hasn’t actually fallen apart.

Thanks to a variety of folks who’ve taken photos of the technical drawings at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, I’ve got a lot of detailed reference on the top part of the fountain, so I decided to start there. The fountain will be built in complete, pristine form first…then I get to go in and destroy it. (I’ll make a copy, don’t worry!) I started with some of the arches:

The intersecting curves are tricky to stitch together. I’m again very grateful for Blender’s TinyCAD add-on, which makes the job somewhat less painful, especially because there’s a lot of it here:

It looks great in gray, but it’ll look even better when I apply my standard stone texture from the castle, right?

Ew. Never mind. Looks like I’m gonna need to create a new material specifically for this fountain. I’ll put a pin in that for now. Back to plain gray as we give this thing some rotational symmetry:

Dang, kinda makes me sad that they went and destroyed half of the thing…the pre-eroded design is really pretty! Anyway, the top part’s also got a lot of detail, but this pediment’s no impediment:

Then all that’s left for the top part is to add some pinnacles to the corners – interestingly, not quite the same design as the pinnacles on the Great Hall, or even the nearby clock tower entrance. Voilà:

I dig it! Next up will be the base of the fountain, the columns, the bird statues, and the texturing – not necessarily in that order.

The POA Clock Tower Approaches Completion

More staircase stuff to come, but for now, back to the main project! With my clock tower photogrammetry in place, I was able to finish up the clock tower’s entryway, again relying more on shots of the set than shots of the miniature, since that area is really only visible from above or from within the courtyard. Fortunately, the sets seem to match the miniature pretty well here. Even though the miniature as currently installed at Leavesden has the doors closed and portcullis down, I decided to keep mine nice and open. My Hogwarts is a welcoming, friendly place. Just look at all the people.

Awkward. Well, anyway, the details look cool, but it’s hard to see beyond the archway; it gets darker in the shadows. Let’s crank up the exposure a little and move beneath the arch to take in all this stuff that we’ll rarely see otherwise!

The actual interior is still dark and boring, but there’ll soon be big windows on the other side of the room.

Let’s talk about those doors, by the way. John Williams wrote a cue for the scene in which they’re locked to secure the school, and he called it “The Big Doors”. He wasn’t kidding. They’re HUGE – around 67 or 68 feet tall, by my estimation. I’m sure they only built the bottom portion for the set, but in the miniature, they just go up and up and up. Imagine the weight…imagine trying to open or close them by hand…

Anyway, the next step was to add windows on the other faces of the clock tower, as well as the details on the dormers along the roof. (Fortunately, these seem to be very similar or identical to the ones on the roof of the Defense Against the Dark Arts building, which I’ve already created, so this didn’t take long.)

With those finished, there are precisely three details left to add to the clock tower: the big window in the back, a small arch at one of the corners, and another door at another corner. Oh, and probably the clock pendulum, too. So four. But I can’t find good reference for the big window, and there’s no point in putting in the pendulum till I have the big window to silhouette it against…and the placement of the arch and door will depend on the placement of the courtyard, and I’m not going to build the courtyard till I’ve built the ruined fountain in the middle. (No sense in enclosing the courtyard and then having to constantly hide pieces to build the stuff inside.) So the fountain is up next!

Clock Tower Progress & Courtyard Photogrammetry

Let’s continue with the Prisoner of Azkaban clock tower! I created the columns and elaborate moulding below the clock. As you can see in this “work in progress” render, everything was still separate from the building at this point:

But as these areas became more complete, I began placing them correctly along the building. I also discovered some issues with how I’d built the facade last year, so I decided to simply redo some of it altogether. Below, you can see some of the old walls removed for replacement as I maneuvered the new elements into position:

I resisted the urge to simplify some of these details, and I’m glad I did. The results were worth it the effort! This has become one of the most detailed areas of the model so far, mostly because the original design has a lot of details, but also because the available reference material is so good. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have detail drawings for most of the castle…everything would take so much longer if I could get this precise with everything:

Fun fact, by the way: see that arch at the bottom of the last render? In the miniature, it’s just got open air behind it, but they created a full-sized set for a shot in Order of the Phoenix, and in that version, it’s actually a balcony. (Umbridge and Filch are standing up there.) They don’t appear to have changed the miniature; I’m going to leave the balcony out.

Moving downward, we arrive at this lovely Gothic pediment that frames the entryway. No technical drawings for this one, so I had to just rely on as many reference images as I could find. Shots of this spot on the miniature are virtually impossible to get in the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, so most of my references are actually from the corresponding set, and some of the details can vary between the sets and the miniatures. Anyway, the modeling process looked much like building the arches above, so I won’t bore you with too many in-progress shots:

I also discovered how good Blender’s denoising has gotten, which means I can drastically speed up my renders. My poor machine only chugged for 15 minutes or so on these images, rather than an hour or more.

Anyway, as I got to the very bottom of the tower, where it meets the courtyard, I started feeling the need for more data. So I went on another photogrammetry spree, trying to create meshes from every possible shot of the courtyard/clock tower set in the film. (There are a lot of them!) Accuracy and precision are very important to me with this project – partly just so I know I’m getting something close to the “real thing”, and partly because I know from past experience that small errors have a way accumulating. You estimate the height of object B on object A, and then you estimate the height of object C on object B, etc., and before you know it, lots of small inaccuracies begin to add up…and sooner or later, those will clash noticeably with other estimations elsewhere on the model.

I’d like to avoid that, which is why I ended up with over a dozen photogrammetry meshes (with different lighting and even different seasons) thrown together to get a more complete picture of the courtyard!

Ugly, yes, but very helpful as I prepare to complete the clock tower and start on the courtyard.

P.S. Don’t let me forget to finish the hospital wing.

P.P.S. Happy belated Mother’s Day!

The Prisoner of Azkaban Clock

Time travel plays a critical role in the climax of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so Alfonso Cuarón decided to have some fun with elaborate shots that literally move right through a giant clock. Only one problem – the Hogwarts we’d seen in the first two films didn’t have any noteworthy clocks. So production designer Stuart Craig and his team created a new wing of the castle that comprised a crumbling courtyard, a rickety wooden bridge leading toward a new location for Hagrid’s hut, a new hospital wing, and…yes, an enormous clock tower.

These areas were realized as part of the main 1:24 scale Hogwarts miniature, as larger bespoke miniatures, and as partial physical sets. All of these were combined with visual effects to heavily feature this new area of the castle throughout the film, which is probably why this was the only film that really stood out to me in theaters as having redesigned parts of Hogwarts.

When we last saw the clock tower in my model, it looked a little something like this:

(Render from this post.)

Not exactly the most detailed model in the world. I’m not really sure why I stopped working on it, but no matter. It’s about time I finished it up. (Get it? About time?)

Anyway, for today we focus on…well, how we got to this:

That’s right, today we’re covering the clock face itself. This is the part for which I have the most detailed technical drawings, thanks to various photographers who’ve documented their adventures at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

The clock actually has two faces, forming a pair of intersecting circular patterns. I started by building each one independently, not worrying about the intersections or textures:

The clock face is separate from the tower for now; it will later be moved into position.

Then came the hardest part by far: cutting out the intersecting areas of the moulding around the circles. I’m not aware of a particularly quick or easy way to do this in Blender, but the TinyCAD add-on did remove some of the hassle. Still, I had to step away from the mess repeatedly. Here’s what it looked like during the process.

Eventually it all worked out, with fairly minimal “cheating” of the geometry. I went to bed haunted by visions of intersecting circles. (Not even kidding!) But it was gratifying to see the results:

I next decided it was time to add some textures – not so much because I cared what it looked like at this juncture, but because the different textures would help me visually distinguish between different components as I worked:

The clock face moves a little closer to the tower, in part to help me gauge the transparency of the glass material.

I wasn’t too sure how detailed I wanted to get when I first started the clock, but as I went, I became interested in greater and greater levels of detail. Soon, the complicated hands on the main face came together. (I stuck with the same time the clock shows in the beautiful transition to winter in the film, though I’m having some trouble figuring out exactly which hand is which…) EDIT: Just learned that this is an astronomical clock, and the extra elements aren’t just decorative! I think the smaller dial is for seconds, but they also had the minute hand move like a second hand in the film, probably to make the passage of time more visible. This also means I slightly fudged a few of the details…but oh well.

It’s worth mentioning that when it comes to the clock, the two differently-scaled miniatures and the full-scale practical element do have slight differences between them. Generally speaking, I’ve skewed toward the specific details seen in the larger miniature and the full-size version, but the level of detail is closer to the main 1:24 scale miniature. In other words, it’s missing the smallest bolts and grooves…this model isn’t intended to be examined SUPER up-close.

That brings us to the complete clock we saw earlier in the post. In addition to completing both faces, I added some basic gears back behind there; they probably won’t be visible 99% of the time, but perhaps they’ll give some visual hint of the inner workings we see in the film.

I’m not quite satisfied with the copper material, so I may go back and make some improvements at some point. But for now, I think the next step will be to build all the other detail on the front facade of the clock tower. There’s a lot – easily enough to fill up the next post. Be sure to follow for more updates!