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!

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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!

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!

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!

Baking the Bird

When we last visited the statue of a certain golden eagle gobbling up a certain rattlesnake from a certain courtyard in the third Harry Potter film, I’d created a base mesh for the initial sculpt in a separate file…

…but I’d temporarily given up when the flight feathers proved more challenging than I’d expected. Although I didn’t share this last time, I’d actually gotten the head off to a decent start, especially for an artist who doesn’t do much sculpting:

But those dang wings were confounding me. Sculpting them was giving results that were messy and uneven, so I decided to try modeling each feather as its own mesh. This seemed more promising, but I still couldn’t get the feathers to “flow” nicely. They have a lovely sweeping three-dimensional curve to them in the film and I wanted to capture that.

After taking a few days off to stew over this frustrating problem, the right method became apparent. I created four different feather shapes/rotations/positions (absolute shape keys, for my fellow Blenderheads) and allowed Blender to…well, blend between them. After playing with them for a while, I finally arrived at a result I could feel good about:

I’m sure there’s an ornithologist somewhere out there having a heart attack over the anatomical tomfoolery on display here, but whatevs. At a certain point, I have to remind myself that this statue is just a tiny part of a much larger just-for-fun model – and only certain versions thereof, at that. It’s not lost on me that I’m putting more effort into this statue than is really necessary for the purposes of this project, but I view it as an opportunity to learn and practice organic modeling skills that I’ve tended to neglect.

Anyway, I began creating some basic materials and threw in a background HDRI for lighting. The same shape key technique worked for the tail feathers…

…but not for the finer, more textural plumage on the body. So I used Materialize (another piece of freeware) to help me create a textured sculpting brush from photography of real eagle feathers. Back in Blender, I used this brush to directionally “paint” three-dimensional feathers along the body. This gave me a great base texture; I reshaped parts of it by hand to create more convincing layers of feathers. Should be good enough, considering that this will mostly be seen from further distances.

I thought the legs and feet were going to be hard, but they actually turned out to be a lot of fun:

This brought the sculpt of the golden eagle to a state of completion! But at this point, this was all still real geometry – millions of tiny flat triangles connected together to form a complex, bumpy surface that slowed my computer down quite a bit. That’s where normal maps come in. I retopologized the statue into a nice, simple, clean mesh*…

…and then I baked all the details from the original sculpt into a normal map, an image that simulates the shading of the original detailed sculpt on the new simplified mesh. The result looks virtually identical, but the simplified model is waaaaaay less sluggish in terms of software performance, render times, and animatibility. (Shut up, I’ve decided it’s a word now.)

Next steps: creating the rattlesnake, posing the eagle to hold it, integrating the whole statue into the main model, and damaging the fountain to match its dilapidated state in the film. But I’ll save all that for another post. In the meantime, I’m just glad I decided to spend the extra time on this. Confession: I’d never actually done a full-on organic model like this, start to finish, from base mesh to sculpting to retopo and normal baking. It’s really boosted my confidence!

On a more serious note, I’m sure the recent months, weeks, and days have been very difficult for a lot of you. Sending lots of love, with the hopes that we will live to see – and create – a better tomorrow together.

* I’m not an expert in topology and edge flow…if you are, I very much welcome your critique! I’m sure I overcomplicated parts of this mesh, and there were a couple of hidden areas where I decided to just cut my losses and learn from my mistakes next time. The wings feature some staggeringly bad topology – spiral loops, super-squashed quads, and even a lone triangle – but I didn’t care much because these are almost entirely hidden by the feathers. They don’t even have any detail sculpted on them.

The Ruined Fountain Strikes Back

Let’s continue building the ruined fountain from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban! I developed a hankering for some texturing, so I created this new material for the fountain. I used the same basic procedural texturing principles in Blender’s Cycles render engine that I used for the castle’s main materials – lots of strategic layering of Noise and Musgrave nodes at varying scales, mainly. The trick is to get this one to work a little better for intricate objects seen at a closer distance while retaining enough low-frequency detail to still look interesting when seen from further away. I think we’ve got a decent start:

I may even end up using this for the surrounding courtyard; it was designed/built at the same time in real life, and probably “in universe” as well. We’ll see how well that works once we get there.

In the meantime, gotta build some columns for this pediment to sit on. This is where I start having to rely more on photogrammetry (and photo reference) for dimensions, so the precision does go down a bit. Should still be quite close, though.

As I described previously, this is the intact fountain, prior to the damage we see in the film. I’ll be matching the damage in my model, but first comes the finishing touch on the fountain structure: the statues! I recently learned that these are an homage to Alfonso Cuarón’s heritage; the image of a golden eagle devouring a rattlesnake is important in Mexican culture. I’ll try to do right by that symbology!

First I studied a bunch of images of the statues as well as photos of real golden eagles and sketched out extremely rough orthographic views in Photoshop. I dropped these into Blender and created a base mesh – just a very rough shape upon which to start sculpting.

The actual eagle statue is frozen in motion, twisting as it grabs the rattlesnake. But sculpting these things is much easier if you start with a symmetrical pose, so that’s what I’m going for here. Then I’ll actually use animation techniques to give it a dynamic, asymmetrical pose.

Or at least, I will once I stop being a whiny baby and get back to work on this bird. For now, I’m fed up with trying to get the feathers right, so I’ve temporarily retreated to my comfort zone to make more buildings.

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.