Blueprint Appreciation Post

Technical drawings are the thing that made this Hogwarts project possible, full stop. I don’t remember which of these was the correct order of events:

  1. I stumbled upon some blueprints online and thought, Wow, I could actually do a 3D model investigating the changes!
  2. I thought, Wow, I’d really like to do a 3D model investigating the changes! and subsequently found some blueprints online.

But either way, I don’t think I ever would have started this thing without some floor plans to guide me.

For the first film, I’ve got two different scans of a single plan of the miniature. One is a high-res B&W scan; the other has much lower resolution and a tighter crop, but it’s in color. Interestingly, their perspectives don’t match, suggesting that one or both of them may have actually originated as photos, not scans. But regardless, here I’ve tried to align them together, applying the low-res color data to the high-res scan. I’ve also rotated it (to match the plans for the other films) and corrected the perspective.

I have a few observations. First of all, this is evidently the fourth revision, dated January 14th, 2001, but there were likely other revisions after this. I say that because this plan is not completely accurate. Flaws I’ve noticed:

  • The Great Hall balcony has the wrong shape – the corners are square and it doesn’t wrap around the north side of the structure.
  • The training grounds tower doesn’t indicate the circle tower where it meets the Durham courtyard structures.
  • The quad interior has the wrong dimensions.
  • The walkway along the east side of the quad exterior appears to have a single level, and the elevation is marked as (I believe) 220′. This is the same level as the adjacent stone bridge. The final design for the first film moves the walkway lower down, with the part nearest the bridge even lower still. This also calls into question the accuracy of the area north of the quad, for which I sadly have no adequate photo reference.

Still, this is an absolutely invaluable look at the original castle.

Sadly, I have no floor plans for the miniature in the second or third films. I very much appreciate Warner Bros. posting these Prisoner of Azkaban elevations at the Studio Tour in London, though:

These cover many of the main changes to the castle in that film, and they were the reason I started my project with the Azkaban castle.

Goblet of Fire is an interesting one. I do have one partial floor plan, but the whole Great Hall/boathouse area is all wrong, as is the quad interior. I suspect that one wasn’t the final revision either.

As you can see, this consists of two scans or photos overlaid on top of each other. This composite I did not do – this is how the image was posted by user “decat” at the RPF.

This drawing provides evidence for the quad cloisters still existing in POA. Presumably, they were still part of that version, and at the time this drawing was created, they simply hadn’t yet decided to raise the quad, add the new arch, remove the cloister and fountain, etc. This is also the only plan I have of the training grounds tower from the COS redesign, and of the adjacent pathway that would eventually change in HBP.

I have no drawings of the miniature from OOTP. Fortunately, not much changed, and the changes that did occur will be easy enough to replicate with help from photogrammetry measurements.

The final HBP floor plan was actually released by Warner Bros. in the book Harry Potter: Page to Screen. It’s a two-page spread, which is wonderful for being able to read all the writing, but it does put an unfortunate seam right in the middle:

Still, it’s a fabulously detailed view of a critical production document and I’m grateful for it. I’m not aware of any inaccuracies here.

The same can almost be said of the earlier version on display at the Studio Tour:

The odd tapering crop is the result of perspective correction, since the original photo was taken at an angle. Note the lack of even the small HBP training grounds tower, the dotted outline of the old DADA tower to be removed, and the more detailed plan of the new astronomy tower.

If that’s not enough for you, though, don’t worry – when it comes to the astronomy tower, MTV News has your back! (Of all sites!)

I haven’t built the astronomy tower yet as of this writing, but this drawing is going to make it a cinch.

The main DH floor plan has also been officially released, albeit with some photo overlays that obscure some of the writing:

That film’s substantial changes are on full display here. The Fantastic Beasts castle is virtually identical; if they did create any drawings for that one, I haven’t seen them.

The real danger in studying these closely is that they refer to all the countless detail drawings that have not surfaced, and likely never will. Always leaves me feeling like the proverbial mouse for whom that cookie was simply not enough.

But ultimately, there’s a real beauty in all these drawings, even if I always find myself wanting more. I’m grateful to the deeply skilled drafters who brought these to life, and to the folks who’ve made them available to us fans!

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!

Continuing the Curtain Walls

Relatively short post today. We’ll start off with some orthographic views of the POA model, by request. This is the state of the model before the progress you’ll see later in this post.

I always enjoy these blueprint-style perspective-less views.

Anyway, onward to today’s update. Let’s start fleshing out the remaining walls surrounding the training grounds! I’m kinda doing the COS version, since most of this is covered by a new hillside from POA onward, but that’s okay.

I hadn’t touched this area since late March 2019…crazy to think that it’s now been over 2 years since I started this whole project!

There’s not a lot of reference for this area of the miniature, but I have found some shots. Between those and photos of the real thing at Alnwick Castle, I think my results are pretty accurate. Interestingly, that guerite (small lookout tower) closest to the camera seems to have been slightly redesigned partway through the construction of the model. I’ve gone with the final design that was glimpsed – if only barely – in the films.

The next structure along the walls is Alnwick Castle’s barbican and gatehouse. (This is the building from which Neville falls and breaks his wrist in the first film.) I had already done a bit of work on this structure as part of an early attempt at recreating Alnwick itself – here’s an old render from this post:

I built this to the same scale as the main Hogwarts model, so it was easy enough to drop that into place and add brick textures:

As we’ve seen with other areas, I’ve built the walls so they go quite a ways down. From this view inside the training grounds, the lowest parts will eventually be covered up by grassy lawns. But on the outside, the terrain is rocky and uneven, and in some areas it slopes downward to reveal the lower areas of the wall. It’s easiest to just make the walls really deep and then cover a lot of it up with the terrain later on.

Fortunately, there are some nice orthographic drawings of the barbican/gatehouse structure on a placard at the location. These provide some very helpful reference. As always, my goal is to capture at least one of these, in roughly descending order of importance:

  1. The onscreen appearance and imagined reality of the castle in the films (which is achieved through a mixture of location shoots, miniatures, CGI, etc.)
  2. The main 1:24 scale VFX miniature of the whole castle
  3. The corresponding real-life filming location

These do not always agree, and there are significant gaps in the reference for the first two, so finding the right compromises can be tricky. For instance, this shot in Sorcerer’s Stone shows Neville’s POV as he nearly impales himself on a statue:

I’m not sure about the background, but the foreground architecture is all CG, and it matches neither the real-life location nor the miniature…although the corresponding spots at the location and on the miniature are never shown onscreen. To make matters worse, in the live-action location shots that follow, the statue (which I believe was installed just for the film) has moved to a different corner of the structure. So there is no single coherent reality for me to replicate.

In this particular case, my approach will be to ignore this quick shot altogether and aim instead for the real location with the added statues and other set dressings. But I’ll save that for the next post.

COS-OOTP Training Grounds Tower, Cont’d

Whew, sorry for the long delay…the months of sitting at my home desk have taken their toll on my arms, and I’ve had to significantly limit my computer use. This will be a shorter post as a result. I’m starting physical therapy soon…if you’re feeling particularly generous and you want to help support my recovery, my Venmo handle is @Joe-Cardello, for what it’s worth. 🙂

Anyway, let’s continue with the version of the training grounds tower that was seen throughout the middle of the Potter series, including Prisoner of Azkaban. As we work our way around to the west facade, my reference material becomes even scarcer, but I’ve got just enough to piece it together in a reasonably accurate way. I started with plain walls, deciding to add the windows and so forth later:

Here’s a view from overhead once I’d roughed in the main shape of the building. At this point, I wasn’t worried too much about cleaning up the intersections between walls and objects…I just wanted to make sure the layout made sense three-dimensionally:

You can see just a bit of the tiny courtyard in the middle. That’s one area for which I truly have zero reference (other than the basic floor plan). It roughly corresponds to the cobbled inner courtyard at Alnwick Castle, which was actually used in the location shoots for the first film, but the version in the miniature is much smaller and it has a different shape because of the way the Alnwick floor plan was reconfigured around it. So the layout of any doors, windows, or other decorative elements on that part of the miniature sadly remains a mystery.

As I said, I have less progress to share because of my ergonomic issues, not to mention the simple fact that this is a tricky structure to figure out. But I’ll at least fill out the rest of this post with an aerial overview of my POA castle so far:

Take care of your body, take care of your mind, and don’t be an ass to people who identify as transgender. See you soon!

The Long Gallery & Starting the Bell Towers

Work on my 3D model of the Prisoner of Azkaban castle continues! The area that corresponds to Durham Cathedral’s north transept is now complete:

I shifted my way attention to the adjacent walls that correspond to the cathedral’s nave and north aisle, otherwise known at Hogwarts as the Long Gallery. I was surprised to notice that the windows and buttresses are not evenly spaced. In fact, the upper windows don’t even align with the lower windows. I fought this briefly, thinking I must be mistaken, but nope, I’m pretty positive none of this stuff lines up in the miniature – and not in ways that match the imperfections of Durham!

I wanted to match the miniature as closely as I could, so I started by adding placeholders for the bell towers at the other end of the Long Gallery to help me lock in my spacing:

The stand-ins are shorter than the talent, and their faces are kinda blank, but hey, what are you gonna do.

At this point I discovered that my entire Long Gallery area was about a foot too far east, so I took a few minutes to shift it over and swivel the viaduct accordingly (a whopping 0.25°). A foot’s not a lot – at 1:24 scale, that comes out to half an inch in the miniature – but it helps to line things up as closely as I can.

With that done, I blocked in the walls and roofs of the long gallery:

Then came the details, with all their subtly variable spacing. Here’s an orthographic view from the side – a perspective-less elevation view, in other words. All the misalignment is totally intentional, and it should be pretty accurate (although I made further tweaks after this render).

Of course, it’ll look better once the far side is enclosed as well; I’m not working on that courtyard side yet.

In the meantime, my next task was to create the 15-foot-wide octagonal tower on the roof of the Long Gallery. This was added in Chamber of Secrets; my guess is that it was a purely aesthetic decision, perhaps motivated by the fact that the establishing shot of the greenhouses shows that area more clearly than we had seen in the first film.

Pretty quick add, and it never changed in any of the later films. Just gotta make sure I exclude it from the eventual Sorcerer’s Stone version of the model!

Next up? The bell towers! While the central tower isn’t very similar to the one at Durham Cathedral, the bell towers have a lot more in common with their Durham counterparts, the North and South Galilee Towers. In fact, the basic impression of the original design in the first two films is that they’ve simply knocked a few of the pinnacles off and added a conical roof to each tower. (Closer inspection does reveal some subtle differences in the details, as with all the Durham areas.) In Prisoner of Azkaban, the conical roofs were replaced with taller belfries and octagonal spires that echo the redesigned central tower, but the lower sections still bear a striking resemblance to Durham Cathedral. They also get a lot more intricate than the central tower, which makes them a little intimidating. I decided to start with the bottom portion, which is all based off stuff I’ve already made:

Now for the hard stuff! Okay, it’s not exactly hard…it’s just…a lot.

Halfway there:

The openings are tricky. In some shots in the early films, you can very unambiguously see straight through from one side to another, but in some photos of the miniature from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, it looks like there are interior walls. After finding other photos that seem to show straight through in the Studio Tour as well, I decided to keep mine hollow, as you see above. Hopefully that’s still accurate to the later films.

Next time we’ll finish the bell towers, add the wall between them, and continue around this northern part of the castle!

Viaduct Entrance, Continued

I ended my last post on a positive note. Sadly, my enthusiasm was perhaps premature. As soon as I started adding windows to the viaduct entrance, I ran into the sorts of issues with dimensions and proportions that so often plague projects like this, at least when you don’t have complete technical drawings at your disposal. The top of window X is supposed to be even with the top of window Y, which is about a third as tall as window X, but if I move window X to be even with window Y, it’s no longer in the right place relative to feature Z…that sort of thing. Really frustrating.

Fortunately, I’m not as much of a perfectionist as I used to be, so I pressed onward, accepting the fact that close comparisons with the original Hogwarts miniature would still reveal small discrepancies. The overall dimensions are still very accurate – welllllllll beyond the accuracy needed for a casual viewer to be able to say, “Hey, that’s Hogwarts!” And thanks to the photogrammetry I’ve been able to pull from various videos of the castle, I shouldn’t end up with any errors that snowball into large-scale catastrophes. (Famous last words?)

The windows look funny without nothing but sky and water on the other side, but that will be resolved when I enclose the other sides of the building. For now, the south facade at least is complete.

I next turned my attention to the thinner towers directly behind the ones you see here. Like the towers in front, these had their spires completely revised in Order of the Phoenix, but I’m still working on the Prisoner of Azkaban version for now. There’s still a long way to go with the Durham area of the castle, but this is already starting to really change the look of the front of Hogwarts:

One of my favorite details on these less prominent towers looks like something out of the Winchester Mystery House: a door that opens from the battered base of the tower into midair, with no balcony or stairs or anything, a good couple of stories above the ground. Take a look toward the bottom of the tower:

No idea why they included this door – nor whether it’s also present on the identical tower on the other side, though the extremely minimal photographic coverage of that area seems to suggest that it’s not. (I also know the door disappeared in the digital DH/FB version of the castle.) In any case, my model omits the door on the other tower and attempts to include as much detail on the neighboring walls as can be divined from the available reference. Those constitute one of the most hidden areas of the castle, so if you miraculously find any overhead shots that peer into it, please comment!

The beginnings of the central tower are visible right below the camera. You can also see that I’m starting to get cautious with my symmetry. While the footprint of this part of the castle was indeed symmetrical in the original Sorcerer’s Stone design, changes to the adjacent areas in the third film necessitated shortening the area on the right that corresponds to Durham’s south transept. Below I’ve given us X-ray vision so we can get an impossible angle. Take a look at the walls on the right with the three windows – those are the ones that got shortened on the opposite side.

As we get to the transepts, the similarities between the Hogwarts miniature and the real-world Durham Cathedral become more and more evident. There are still discrepancies, though; I’m favoring the VFX miniature’s design in those areas, especially since this part of the actual cathedral isn’t even seen in the films.

I’ll round out today’s post with some untextured orthographic views of the entire Prisoner of Azkaban model as of this moment. Coming along!

P.S. If you haven’t subscribed to my new YouTube channel, I’d recommend it. I don’t have much content up there yet, mainly because the project is still very much a work in progress, but especially when we start getting into the final stages, I’d imagine I’ll be posting a lot of videos. I did recently post the raw visual effects shot of Hogwarts I created for the teaser for Les Fondateurs 2: La Quête de Gryffondor (The Founders 2: Gryffindor’s Quest).

(Abandoned?) Side Project: The Literary Hogwarts

Thus far, this project has focused entirely on the versions of Hogwarts seen in the films (and theme parks). But I’ve been re-reading the entire book series as well, taking notes anytime some aspect of the castle or its environs is described – after all, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that it’s a completely different castle. For a long while I had this idea that it would be cool to create a model, illustrations, and/or floor plans for the book version of Hogwarts, but I wanted to make sure I had all the information first. In the meantime, I messed around with possible overall looks in 2D, though I didn’t arrive at anything I particularly liked:

Then I finished my notes on Deathly Hallows and compiled them according to different areas of the castle and grounds. I wrote out the following guiding principles for myself:

  • The goal is to depict in 2D and/or 3D what Hogwarts and its surroundings look like in my head, factoring in all the details given in the books.
  • Where details conflict between books, priority is generally given to descriptions that occur later in the series and/or more often.
  • The word “castle” is used to describe Hogwarts, but it’s evident from the descriptions that its features don’t always line up with what one would find in a real Scottish castle from the time period. At the same time, there’s nothing to hint at the Gothic cathedral architecture we see in the films. Here, we assume that this is a thousand-year-old boarding school built by magical people, sharing a lot of architectural similarities with contemporary Muggle castles.
  • We know the layout of Hogwarts is not 100% fixed; its magical properties do cause it to behave in some unusual ways. That being said, its overall layout doesn’t seem to change, based on the details given and on the fact that students can find their way around without a map. The approach here generally assumes a fixed layout with no fudging of the available space.
  • J. K. Rowling’s two hand-drawn maps of the book layout are taken as a general guide. Where details in the maps conflict with those in the books, the latter take priority.
  • The language in the books is not always particularly precise, so there is a little room for flexibility in the interpretation.

The process I had in mind was to start with the interiors, exploring spatial relationships between the castle’s various rooms, corridors, staircases, and so on. I figured if I could figure out how Dumbledore’s office relates to Gryffindor Tower, and how Gryffindor Tower relates to the Room of Requirement, and how the Room of Requirement relates the marble staircase, etc., etc., eventually I’d have a good idea of how to bring it all together.

With this in mind, I started my first layout experiments with the ground floor, since the entrance hall, Great Hall, and marble staircase are among the most frequently (and consistently) described areas of the castle. I took a bubble diagram approach and allowed myself to get really, really messy:

The areas closest to the entrance hall and Great Hall (GH on the right) were already feeling fairly locked in, but as you move further and further away, things get less and less certain.

Moving from the castle’s ground floor to its highest peaks, I started playing around with tower size and placement, since these will greatly impact the overall look and layout of the castle. I experimented in both 2D and 3D, again allowing for extreme roughness:

The existence of a bell tower is speculative; it’s never referred to as a tower in the book, but the bell seems to boom from somewhere above, perhaps especially close to the courtyard and classroom eleven. Considering how Hogwarts is a “vast” “towering mass” of “many turrets and towers”, I don’t think I necessarily have to limit myself just to the six towers that are explicitly described.

I next looked at the seventh floor. Here’s our first (and biggest) instance of the books not agreeing with each other. In the first three books, the corridor with the portrait hole to Gryffindor Tower seems to be on the third floor, but starting in Goblet of Fire, it’s very clearly on the seventh. Here I cleaved to my guiding principles above and accepted the seventh floor as canon. My other main landmarks on this floor were the Room of Requirement (RoR) and Dumbledore’s office, so I tried to work out how they relate to each other.

This is where I started getting a little overwhelmed with this side project and stopped working on it. I was also turned off by Rowling’s misguided comments about transgender people, which didn’t help. So for now, this side project has gone dormant, possibly to be revived someday…possibly not. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this glimpse of my process. If you’re really interested in this idea, there are some other great attempts online. I’m thinking in particular of this one and this one.