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!

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!

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!

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!

Finishing the COS Whomping Willow

Before we get into today’s post, I was asked to share a plan view of the original quad in my model, so…voila! Can’t make any guarantee of its absolute accuracy, but it should be close. (Still missing the terrace along the north side…I don’t have any good references for that.)

Anyway, in our last installment, I’d finished a rough sculpt of the Chamber of Secrets Whomping Willow’s trunk, roots, and major branches. But I decided it would be better to let Blender grow the newer, denser growth on top. I created a particle system to generate paths leading away from the tree’s knuckles. Negative gravity pulled those paths upward to create the right shape. Here’s an early attempt:

After adjusting the parameters some more:

It was at this point that I spontaneously made a work-in-progress video tour of the SS castle, which then morphed into a tour of the COS castle too. This has been up on YouTube for a bit but I’ll include it here in case you’re crazy enough to not have already subscribed there.

But anyway, back to the Whomping Willow. The next step was to add smaller twigs. I created a handful of different shapes and used another particle system to distribute them over the shoots on top. To keep the distribution from being unnaturally even, I painted a “weight map” to control the density. Looks kinda cool on its own:

But of course, the point isn’t to have the weight map look pretty. The point is to get the twigs in place:

Then I went back to the trunk and main branches to sculpt the final levels of detail, giving them a texture that hopefully resembles tree bark. This took a while. Lots of virtual scraping with my Wacom tablet. (For fellow Blender users – I did most of my rough sculpting with the wonderful Clay Strips brush, and then I adjusted the falloff of the Scrape brush to dig all the grooves into the bark.) In the next render, you can also see me starting to experimenting with procedural normal maps to add another level of detail:

Then it was just a matter of refining the coloration of the tree and texturing the rocks at the base!

That flat lawn texture doesn’t look horrible from a distance, but it’s pretty obvious that there’s no actual grass here when you get close like this. So I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: I used Blender’s relatively new geometry nodes feature to create actual blades of grass.

This was my first foray into geometry nodes. Initially, I just wanted to add blades where the lawn approached other objects (like the Willow). That way I could at least get rid of the hard edges but still keep my computer from blowing a gasket. But the performance seems to be better than with the existing particle tools, which is really exciting. I’d been worried about how to tackle the surrounding landscape if my computer couldn’t handle that many blades of grass, but this has me more optimistic. I went ahead and just covered the whole lawn with actual blades, and it seems to be working fine!

Anyway, here are some views of the complete COS Whomping Willow!

More updates to come!

Fixin’ Mistakes

I love that establishing shot as winter becomes spring in the first film. I didn’t attempt to exactly match the angle and lighting, but it’s pretty close. Fiddle with the slider to show what the POA castle (right) would have looked like from the same angle!

Anyway, my main purpose with today’s short post is to clean up some messes! I was alerted to an apparent error in the last post: the front walkway through the arch doesn’t seem to have connected to the walkway around the Chamber of Reception, after all. The truth is far stranger and less certain…but if I’m interpreting the bits of available reference material correctly, there was actually a staircase that led down below the Chamber of Reception, probably entering through a gap in the rocky hillside that supports the CoR. This is my best attempt at reconstructing it:

I was then alerted to another error – there were windows on the hospital wing where there shouldn’t have been. And I discovered an extra chimney in the SS version of the quad, too. So here’s a new SS/POA comparison slider that fixes these issues:

Moral of the story for me: Always double-check all your reference images!

Moral of the story for you: If you think you see a mistake in my work, please do let me know in the comments! I want to get this right and I appreciate the help!

Finishing the SS and POA Quads (and Hospital Wing)

Relatively short post – time to add the cloisters to the original quad. It is very difficult to make out any detail in the single shot of these cloisters in Chamber of Secrets, but it seems very safe to assume that these were based on the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral. So what the heck, I’m going for it:

The floor is so plain! I mean, the floor looked a lot like that in the later iterations of the quad, but in the beginning, there were footpaths and a fountain and everything. Looks much better with those in place, even if the walls were tall enough to keep it pretty dark in there a lot of the time.

Fun fact: I haven’t built any doorways from the cloisters into the middle there. There would certainly be at least one in real life, and I’d imagine the miniature had at least one, but I’ve got no idea where it would have been, so I’m not going to bother.

Here’s are a couple of views of the complete original quad:

Not my finest texture work, admittedly. Most of what I’ve created for this project holds up a lot better at larger distances.

Of course, this project is all about the changes to the design of Hogwarts. So when did the quad start to change? Well, the hospital wing got added in Prisoner of Azkaban. I strongly suspect (though I’m not absolutely 100% certain) that the raised, cloister-less floor didn’t come till Goblet of Fire. Here are a couple of comparisons between the pre-Azkaban version (left) and the Azkaban version (right), showing the addition of the hospital wing [EDIT: there are too many windows here – see the next post for the fixed version]:

The off-center placement of the hospital wing is intentional, by the way. It was really designed and built like that.

If you’re still having trouble getting a sense for how the different levels line up, here’s an orthographic cross-section:

Should be quite close, if not precise down to the inch. That’s the back terrace on the lower left and the quad itself in the middle.

Next, tackling the walkways out in front of the quad building, connecting up with the viaduct [EDIT: Actually, I’m pretty sure this is not accurate either; again, see the next post for the fix]:

That render could be of any of the first three films, by the way, since that area didn’t change at all (as far as I can tell).

Where do we go from here? The last remaining major castle structure is the lower walkway (around the bottom right corner of that render) and the terrace to which it likely led in the first two films. But it would be an understatement to say that I’m having trouble finding good reference for that area. Still not sure what I’m going to do about that.

One thing I am sure of? It’s been way too long since we’ve done a nighttime render! Like, waaaaaay too long. Almost a year. The model was half its current size! Here are a few nighttime shots of the Azkaban version to help rectify the situation. See you next time!