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!

Transfiguration Classroom

In the early Potter films, scenes in Professor McGonagall’s Transfiguration classroom were shot on location in the chapter house at Durham Cathedral. As part of their efforts to make the original exterior miniature somewhat consistent with the location shoots, Stuart Craig and his team adapted the exterior of the chapter house as part of their design.

I say “adapted” because the details don’t really match. Still, it’s very clear that this structure just south of the middle courtyard (also adapted from Durham) was intended to be the exterior of the classroom.

Here’s the basic shape of the structure:

My “reference board” for this structure is one of my smallest. This is partly because it only existed for two films and partly because it’s not that big or complex a structure…but it’s also partly because reference is really, really scarce. Like…a couple of shots in Chamber of Secrets and a behind-the-scenes photo from Sorcerer’s Stone, plus the floor plan that sits beneath the model. Still, it’s enough to reconstruct what most of it looked like…

…except I have literally zero shots of the far side of the structure, the one facing the courtyard. I’d be in heaven if I could find a shot of the original miniature from an angle like this:

It would clear up my questions about the side of the Transfiguration classroom facing the courtyard, not to mention the original training grounds tower roof on the right. Again…maybe someday. In the meantime, I’m leaving the wall facing the courtyard blank.

Anyway, here’s the less mysterious side with all the nice details:

And, as promised last time, here’s a slider comparing the whole area in the first film (left) to the redesign in the third film (right), including the relocation of the suspension bridge:

Next up…dare I try to tackle the original quad?

The Transfiguration Courtyard

Time for a Hogwarts feature that’s right out of Durham Cathedral, at least in its original form. The cloisters were used as the filming location for the “middle courtyard” or “Transfiguration courtyard” in the early films, though it was later represented by a similar courtyard at Oxford and then by a set at Leavesden.

I first spent a morning working on under-the-hood tweaks to hopefully improve the file’s performance – downrezzing overlarge normal maps, replacing duplicated objects with linked proxies, decimating some meshes that had gotten too dense, etc. The hope is that my computer will be able to handle the file a little more easily moving forward. No sexy renders to share for that, though, so here’s a cute puppy photo instead.

Anyway, back to Hogwarts! A big question cropped up as I was compiling my references: How much detail do I put into the cloisters – specifically, the doorways that lead to other parts of the castle? These are seen in the location shoots in the first two films, but at least some of these were evidently left out the miniature. (They never would have been visible in the film, so I can appreciate the decision to focus elsewhere.) Furthermore, the south walk (which corresponds to the east walk at Durham) changed repeatedly over the course of the films, and I have no idea what the cloister interior looked like at that point.

I figured the most reasonable approach would be to create the complete courtyard without those doorways and then see if I could get away with it in my renders. I started with the tracery of the cloisters and a basic ground plane:

This part was easy because I’d already built the clock tower courtyard – its cloisters contain a lot of design elements adapted from Durham Cathedral.

The fountain in the center of the courtyard was next, and this one’s going to give me some trouble later on…not because it’s hard to create, but because it’s unclear exactly when it vanished. Let’s break it down:

  • It was created for the first film, apparently as a set dressing that sat on top of the lavatorium (monks’ handwashing station) that sits in the middle of the courtyard at Durham.
  • It’s still there in the second film, both on location and in a bespoke 1/8th-scale model of the courtyard used in an overhead establishing shot.
  • The center of the courtyard is never visible in the third film, so that one’s a question mark.
  • As I mentioned, goings-on in the courtyard were shot at Oxford instead of Durham Cathedral for the fourth film, so the location looks totally different and won’t be reflected in my model. There is an aerial shot during the First Task when we briefly see the Durham courtyard, but if the fountain is there, only the very top of it is peeking over the roofline.
  • No idea in the fifth film…
  • In the sixth film, the courtyard was realized as a set that included the base of the Astronomy Tower. (I suspect this was a revamp of the viaduct courtyard set, which I suspect was a revamp of the clock tower courtyard set.) There’s no fountain in that set, but that set is far from a perfect match to the miniature. I can’t find any shots of the center of the courtyard in the miniature, but the fountain is gone from the technical drawings and I’d imagine the same is true of the miniature.
  • In the final film, the fountain is again missing from the technical drawings, and this is confirmed with a CG overhead shot of the area.

With all that in mind…until I can find more reference that confirms which changes were made when, I’m just going to assume the fountain lasted till the sixth film, at which point it was removed and never came back.

Anyway, I added the fountain and started the sewer grate. I also added the benches, which seem to have been more set dressings. You can see in this render that I’ve finally mirrored the east walls of the Long Gallery onto the west side, too:

That’s the first render I did with the new Blender 2.90. It’s got some great new features, but it kept crashing when I attempted to render. After some troubleshooting, I figured it out: this version of the software doesn’t like my old smoke simulations. That’ll need to be addressed, but for now, I’m afraid the hearths of Hogwarts have gone cold.

That structure in the top left corner of that render is a newly-added Durham Cathedral transept, the last missing piece of the Long Gallery. In the first film, this one was a simple mirror image of the one on the other side, but when the Dark Tower (center) was added in Prisoner of Azkaban, this transept had to be shortened a bit, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical footprint that lasted right through the end of the series. Easier to see from the air:

As you can see, the one to the left of the central tower isn’t as long as its counterpart on the right.

One interesting thing about this courtyard is that each of its four sides has a different look. I next took care of the north wall, which corresponds to the west wall at Durham:

You’ve no doubt noticed that the cloister is still roofless – I decided to save that for after the surrounding walls were built. Speaking of which, here are the last of them:

It’s hard to find detailed reference for the wall on the right (above the two benches) in the miniature. Its design is similar to that of the corresponding wall at Durham Cathedral, but there are some differences. To make matters worse, there are some apparent discrepancies in the number of windows in the various Hogwarts images available, but there’s a good chance that what I’ve done is accurate to the state of the main miniature at the time of POA. And if not, it’s at least quite close – it could be that there are supposed to be six windows on the shorter part of the wall instead of five.

Anyway, the only remaining step was to add the cloister roofs! With these in place, the answer to my “big question” became clear: No, I didn’t need to add doors and other details inside the cloisters. They simply aren’t visible unless you’re actually inside the cloisters, and I’m okay with not having detailed views inside there. So with that in mind…voilà, the complete transfiguration courtyard!

Incidentally, I love that structure just above the center of that render, below the DADA tower. It was added in the third film when the DADA tower got shifted over a bit, and it’s basically just a Durham Cathedral transept, except, like…a standalone version. Something about it tickles me. Naturally, everything will look better once that wall next to it has an actual building behind it, but that’ll come with adding the final major piece of the main castle: the training grounds tower!

What Was There Before the Hogwarts Greenhouses?

It’s not a question that you could answer just by watching the films. Here we have to rely on behind-the-scenes shots and technical drawings from Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone to reconstruct this area in its original state.

But first, I knew I needed to finish up this area as seen from Chamber of Secrets through Half-Blood Prince! I finished the curtain walls and added lawns:

Here’s a cool POV shot coming down the back steps of the Durham building:

That’s a wrap for this area in the Prisoner of Azkaban 3D model! But what did it look like at the time of the first film? Well, you still had curtain walls surrounding a large, L-shaped lawn, but the walls weren’t quite as far from the castle, and instead of the domed conservatory acting as the entryway, you had this relatively simple, squarish, Alnwick Castle-inspired building:

This side of the building is actually seen in a couple of shots in the film, but I haven’t been able to find as much detailed information about the other sides – in particular, the opposite side that faces the castle proper. For that facade, I’ve just used the same details as what you see here, but I can’t deny the possibility that some of the details were a little different. (I wonder in particular if they really would have put the Hogwarts crest on the other side.) Unless I find elevations or images of that part of the miniature, I may never know…when the greenhouses and conservatory were added in COS, this small gatehouse disappeared forever.

Anyway, here are a couple of before-and-after sliders to play with! On the left is the Sorcerer’s Stone castle; the right is Prisoner of Azkaban. (The changes we’re currently focused on occurred in Chamber of Secrets, but you’ll of course see some Azkaban changes too.)

I’ll wrap up this post with a view of some additional work I did next on the west side of the Alnwick Castle warder’s tower. Here there are again some details that differ a bit between the VFX miniature and the real-world filming location; I’m primarily going off of the miniature, though Alnwick does provide invaluable reference as well. I guess you could say my goal is to capture the shared imagined reality that the model and the location both help bring to life.

The two contenders for my next area of focus are the transfiguration/middle/Durham courtyard and the training grounds tower. I’m much more excited at the prospect of doing the latter, but I think I may tackle the courtyard first. Be sure to subscribe to be notified with future updates!

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!

Revealing the Bridge

Possibly the most noticeably new castle feature in Prisoner of Azkaban was the long, rickety wooden bridge leading from the new clock tower and courtyard to the new location of Hagrid’s hut and the Whomping Willow. (The bridge stuck around all the way through to Deathly Hallows, when it was enlarged to make its destruction more dramatic.)

As with so many things, it’s easier to build something like this in its original pristine state and then deform it appropriately. So I set out to create a perfectly straight version of the bridge with none of its characteristic undulations:

Not very recognizable yet. Adding the roof and a few more elements helps a lot:

That’s more like it!

As I began to add the trestle structures below, I threw in some textures as well:

This all came together pretty quickly, in part because everything you see above consists of a single 8-foot-long segment with an Array modifier that dynamically duplicates it 24 additional times. Then it was time to move the bridge into place as I continued to add details:

Thus far, I’d avoided all the wooden tracery that gives the bridge its ornate look. There are actually two designs used on different parts of the bridge, something I’d never noticed before. I recreated both:

Next steps will be to adjust the bottoms of the supports to match the ravine below, adjust the texturing on the roof, and ultimately bend and twist the segments of the bridge to give it its final wobbly look.

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.

Finishing the Ruined Fountain

Okay, time to wrap up the fountain in the clock tower courtyard from Prisoner of Azkaban!

First up – finishing the statues. I believe the original Mexican symbology has the golden eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, but the base of this statue appears to be a nondescript rock, and that’s what I’ve modeled it after. It was fun to glob that together with Blender’s “clay strips” sculpting brush; I also rigged and posed the eagle’s mouth and claws to hold the rattlesnake, whose body started as a squiggly Bezier curve with a circular cross-section. I enjoyed trying to match the sinuous, energetic gesture of the original.

The snake’s head was sculpted separately with its jaws already fully open…no need to worry about rigging and posing this fella. Good reference is scant for the head; as with the eagle, I relied on photos of real animals to help me fill in the gaps, but it was surprisingly hard to get a good “likeness.” Oh well…at least I planned out the retopology a little better than with the eagle. That enabled me to graft the head onto the body and bake a normal map from the head sculpt. He still looks kinda funky without fangs, but they appear to have been weathered away in the film.

With that, the only things remaining were integration with the main model and damage/erosion! Not too shabby-looking, right?

Integrating this into the main model ended up being very easy. There are four statues: one at each corner of the fountain. As I placed these, I spotted some angles and proportions that were a little off, but I suppose that’s the downside to working on the statue in its own file. Oh well. The complete fountain still looks pretty cool!

I suppose it’s a little misleading to describe the fountain as “complete” when it didn’t actually have…you know…a fountain…so let’s run some fluid simulation!

Not great, but it’ll do, especially because we won’t normally be this close.

The last step with this fountain was to destroy it a little. There are big chunks of it that have crumbled away. After creating some jagged meshes to cut these away with Boolean modifiers, I arrived (after over 2 weeks of on-and-off work) at the complete fountain!

Now it just needs a courtyard to surround it!