Suspension Bridge & Gryffindor Girls’ Tower

When we last saw the Hogwarts suspension bridge in my project, it was an untextured but fairly complete bridge to nowhere. Then, a few posts later, I said that I’d hidden the bridge so I could do some reworking, and that it would return “eventually.” I didn’t really expect that “eventually” would mean two years and a pandemic later, but there ya go.

In the intervening time, I discovered some issues with my original recreation of the bridge, so I just rebuilt it from scratch. The suspension bridge moved in Prisoner of Azkaban; I decided to start with that version, as I did two years ago.

I found that the two ends of the bridge weren’t quite lining up, but that problem went away with some slight cheating.

One challenge is that our only truly close-up view of this bridge in the films is during the dragon chase in Goblet of Fire…but that shot features a different design, and I’ve chosen to ignore it.

Adding the details, and hiding the buildings to the north so we can get a better angle (and let some more light in):

I suppose it’s only fair to also include a reverse angle, this time hiding the south block (and rotating the sky/sun 180°):

But of course, as I said, this is not where the suspension bridge started out. Originally, it was closer to Gryffindor Tower and lower down – in fact, you can see the small building it originally led to on the far left side of the render above.

Back on the opposite (south) side of the ravine, the tower containing the Gryffindor girls’ dormitories originally stood directly above the other side of the bridge. (Not going to dig into the design choice to deprive the girls’ tower of a spire or any discernable windows…) That tower disappeared completely when the suspension bridge moved in Prisoner of Azkaban, although the Gryffindor common room set still hints at its existence.

Again, it’s easiest to see this with half of the castle missing. Drag the slider to compare Sorcerer’s Stone (left) to Azkaban (right):

I should say that I am NOT confident in the accuracy or completeness of the lower left area of the wall in the Sorcerer’s Stone version. The floor plan seems to indicate some sort of terrace or balcony; if it was actually built, I’d imagine it was similar to the one on the right side of the render, in appearance and height. Sadly, I simply cannot find any reference for this area of the original model, so for the time being, I’m just building the main wall itself. Someday, man…someday.

I’d like to show you a similar slider facing the opposite direction, but I think that’ll be more fun and more informative once I’ve built the Transfiguration classroom (AKA Durham Cathedral chapter house). That’s next up on my to-do list…stay tuned for more updates! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a more familiar Sorcerer’s Stone angle of the suspension bridge area:

And hey, why not – just as a fun bonus, here’s an overhead shot, but with the SS and POA versions both visible and intersecting nonsensically. I’m including the mist pass too because it just looks frickin’ cool.

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Wrapping Up the SS Training Grounds

For Sorcerer’s Stone only, the Quidditch training grounds were surrounded by curtain walls, retaining walls, and small towers that were slight adaptations of structures at Alnwick Castle. As we’ve seen in previous posts, a big chunk was redesigned in Chamber of Secrets, and then a big hill covered up the remainder of the original design starting in Prisoner of Azkaban. (The all-digital version in Deathly Hallows and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t have any walls back there at all.)

Because of all this, there’s not a huge amount of reference available for this area of the miniature. It’s certainly easy to find reference for the real thing at Alnwick, but what reference I do have makes it clear that the details don’t always match up. Just gotta do my very best!

I continued around to the far side, where the information is most limited. I’ll compensate for my less-than-complete confidence in certain details here by including the “mist pass” for this render, just for fun. This is a component of the render that’s used to add some atmospheric perspective. The further something is from the camera, the lighter it is, simulating greater amounts of haze between the viewer and the object. Looks kinda cool all by itself, eh?

There’s a low wall that divides the Alnwick Castle lawns in real life, and it shows up in the blueprints for the first Hogwarts miniature as well. The real thing even shows up in a single (edited) establishing shot of the location, at the beginning of the flying lesson. But I’ve never found a single photo of that spot in the miniature, which makes it tough to know exactly how much detail they put into it.

I’m cheating with all these lawns – they’re just textured surfaces with no actual blades of grass. To create those would require particle systems or geometry nodes or something, and I don’t think my computer could handle the amount of grass that’ll eventually be part of the model. Even filling just this area with actual blades of grass would be pushing my luck:

So I’m not really sure how I’m going to handle the landscape as a whole. The goal is to have it look…well, not like this render I created as a kid in Bryce 3D, circa 1999:

I can tell already that I won’t be able to rely solely on procedural materials. At the very least, I may need to hand-paint some changes in coloration near the footpaths and whatnot. Perhaps another day. In the meantime, we’ll close out for now with an extremely wide (and slightly distorted) angle reminiscent of the first shot of the training grounds in the first film.

More Training Grounds Tower

Wow, I did not mean for the last couple months to slow down so much! I’ve been busy with some unrelated projects. My apologies for the radio silence! But I thought I’d at least share a brief update.

As you can see in the new render above, I’ve been continuing to work on the training grounds tower – the version that existed from Chamber of Secrets through Order of the Phoenix. I can see why Stuart Craig took the opportunity to replace it with a much simpler tower in Half-Blood Prince, but I do have a soft spot for this rather charmingly awkward design.

One thing I’d never really thought about was the huge number of very diverse and irregularly spaced windows on this structure. I decided to start carving out the holes before worrying about the frames and panes; that way I could easily make adjustments. My reference images are limited for some of these areas…I’ve had to accept that some of my window holes may be off by a few feet or have a slightly different design:

It ain’t perfect, but it’s a start. The bottom parts of these walls are the hardest, at least if the goal is to be accurate to the miniature. You would think they’d be identical to the corresponding spots at Alnwick Castle – spots that are even seen in the backgrounds of the location shoots in the first film – but you’d be wrong. I’ve seen enough to know that there are differences…just not enough to know exactly what every window looks like. Looked, I suppose I should say…it’s certainly not part of the model anymore, and who knows what happened to it.

Anyway, as I said, I’m pretty focused on some other projects at the moment, so I apologize if there’s another long gap before my next post!

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).