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!

The Boathouse Steps Aren’t THAT Stupid

Okay, after some massaging, I’ve gotten the photogrammetry meshes to line up a little better. This is always tricky because:

  1. The photogrammetry isn’t precise down to the millimeter – depending on the source images, the model can end up a little skewed.
  2. The technical drawings aren’t super precise either – for most areas, I don’t have detail drawings, only the overall floor plan.
  3. When lining up one photogrammetry mesh with another, you might need to adjust any or all of the following:
    • overall scale
    • x translation
    • y translation
    • z translation
    • x rotation
    • y rotation
    • z rotation

So, bottom line…these things aren’t as precise as one could wish, and you have to decide which which sources to trust, and that can vary from area to area.

Anyway, the adjusted photogrammetry confirms that different flights of the Half-Blood Prince boathouse steps (which are the same as in the previous two films) do indeed have different slopes, which is why my vertical dimensions weren’t working very well. In fact, to get everything to fit, I had to give almost every flight a slightly different slope. This seems awfully messy, but it also provides the best fit to the actual miniature.

That’s all being put on hold for now, though – I just discovered more reference photos that are helping me fill in areas that were otherwise difficult to reconstruct. In particular, I finally know what the original “link building” looks like! (That’s the small connection between the Great Hall/Chamber of Reception structure and the marble staircase tower; it changed to a different design after Azkaban.) So while I don’t have any renders to share for this post, I think the next one will cover the link building and the front of the quad building!

P.S. For the record, the boathouse steps themselves are actually a great design, beautifully executed in all three incarnations. I just get frustrated when I can’t get my sources of info to agree with each other, haha.

The Boathouse Steps Are Stupid

Ugh. I’ve indeed proceeded to the boathouse steps, and it turns out that they’re evil.

It all started out innocently enough. There are super detailed drawings available for the Deathly Hallows version, so I started there. I figured I’d work backward to the GOF/OOTP/HBP version, and then finally to the SS/COS/POA version. Above is the DH version in the process of being built, along with a newly wavy lake surface. Below is what they looked like when I was done:

Okay, so far, so good. It looks weird, but that’s just because they’re untextured, they don’t have any walls, and they don’t match up with the POA castle around it. The technical drawings were very explicit and internally consistent, so I felt very confident in this setup. Next up: the version from the middle three films! Should be easy, right? Just follow the floor plans, and then adjust the height to match the exact vertical distance between the boathouse floor and the viaduct courtyard floor, right?


It all went askew when I compared my steps to this angle of the HBP model at Warner Bros*:

See how the steps come right up to the bottom of the boathouse roof? Yeah…mine didn’t do that. They stopped noticeably lower. Something was off with the vertical scale. Presumably, some of the flights were supposed to be steeper than others. But it also occurred to me that my vertical measurements for the boathouse weren’t particularly precise either, so it was risky to try to get these disparate approximations to match up with each other.

No problem! Fortunately, this version of the castle has better photographic documentation than any other, since it’s open to the camera-wielding public. I was particularly enthused when I found this video – I knew Meshroom would like the camera motion, coverage, and image quality. So I fed a bunch of frames into the photogrammetry software and let it run. Actually, I let it run multiple times on different subsets of images – running everything all together resulted in some errors. Then I plopped all the different scans together into the same physical space:

Not exactly pretty, because this is a half-dozen scans with different lighting poking through each other haphazardly due to the limited precision of this method – plus lots of junk data floating around. (A lot of the stuff up top is the lighting fixtures from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, haha.) Still, I figured this should provide some good reference, right?

Well…it turns out that the floor plans don’t quite match up with any of the scans. So that’s annoying. Again, it’s probably the result of the limited precision of this photogrammetry, but it makes it tough to trust this information.

And that’s really where I’m at right now…still trying to figure out the boathouse steps. I may end up needing to adjust the boathouse’s vertical scale, too. Oy…wish me luck.

* Apologies to the photographer for not giving credit. I’ve somehow lost wherever I found that image. If you recognize it as yours, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Great Hall Balconies, Pepperpot, & Pre-DH Boathouse

Work continues on the Prisoner of Azkaban iteration of Hogwarts! I guess my return to the project might have legs.

(Forgive the exposed interior glow panels on the right again.)

With the Chamber of Reception complete, I moved on to the terraces or balconies surrounding the Great Hall, plus the foundations below. Good lord, the geometry of these corbels gave me a headache as I tried to reconcile a variety of imprecise measurements and calculations. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, though. And I sure was thrilled when the spacings of the corbels and the torches lined up! I added the finishing touches to the pepperpot as well.

This also afforded the opportunity to check out some angles not seen in the films, such as this nighttime view looking toward the head of the Great Hall from the balcony outside:

Soon I was faced once again with that perennial question: what next? At first I considered doing the crenelations outside the Chamber of Reception and the steps down to the boathouse, but as I assembled reference images, I found myself drawn to the boathouse itself.

It’s a simple structure with a lot of good reference out there, since it never changed till the digital rebuild of the castle for Deathly Hallows (when it was completely redesigned), and visitors to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour can get quite close to that part of the model. As a result, it came together pretty quickly. Here it is in complete form:

I really like that last one. I wanted the boathouse to “pop” in front of the similarly-colored castle behind it, so I went with a shallow depth of field and ended up with this render that kinda looks like a miniature itself. You can even see the witch-and-black-cat weather vane at the top. And, as I mentioned last time, I finally got a decent stone floor texture going, though I’ll probably still tweak that some more.

Next up…the boathouse steps, I suppose? Speaking of which, it just occurred to me that the first-years have to climb the height of a 14-story building to get from the boathouse to the Great Hall for their Sorting. Between that and the nerves, it’s amazing they all manage to stay on their feet.

Chamber of Reception

For the first three Potter films, a large antechamber or entrance hall sat in front of the Great Hall. Its interior – the very first interior of Hogwarts seen on film – was shot on location at Christ Church Cathedral’s Great Staircase at Oxford. Stuart Craig and his team didn’t attempt to recreate the exterior of this structure in the visual effects miniature of Hogwarts, but the design they came up with does draw some details from that real-world location. Although this room is never explicitly named in the film, Harry’s prop acceptance letter instructs him to report to the “Chamber of Reception”, and the name (seen only briefly onscreen) seems to have stuck with the fan communities. The closest equivalent in the books is the entrance hall.

For Goblet of Fire, Hogwarts received a new courtyard and tower in front of the Great Hall, and the Chamber of Reception went the way of the dodo, never to return. In its place was an entrance hall with a smaller footprint and very different appearance. It’s a great look, but I’m very fond of the Chamber of Reception, due to my particular nostalgia for the first film. Fortunately, since I’m working on the Azkaban version of the castle, I get to include it in my model!

Getting the vertical dimensions of the Chamber of Reception required some use of photogrammetry and inference from known elevations of adjacent areas. Soon, I had a basic shape roughed in:

That chimney that protrudes from the corner on the right is a detail taken from the real thing at Oxford, by the way. Thanks, Google Maps:

The miniature also incorporates the exterior steps and the light fixture above the arch, even though there are no location shots of those in the film, leading me to believe that they at least considered shooting some stuff just outside this building at Oxford.

Anyway, I kept the same camera angle for the renders that followed. I began to block in the so-called pepperpot building on the left and added more details to Chamber of Reception:

The last round of details really brought it all together, completing the Chamber of Reception (other than some windows I may add to the far side). The tracery on the windows was tough, since reference for those is quite limited. I think what I came up with is pretty decent, even if it’s not 100% accurate. I also had to refer to the hammerbeam roof interior miniature from the first film for the rose window on the front of the Great Hall – I can’t find any closeup shots of the exterior, but there’s a corresponding rose window in the interior miniature.

I even included that real-world lamp above the arch, plus another Hogwarts-style sconce next it that’s visible on the effects miniature. They’re hard to see in the daylight, so…Nox!

There’s still more to be done here with the interior lighting, but I do like the way this is turning out. You’re actually seeing into the lit interior of the Chamber of Reception and Great Hall; most of the other windows in my model just have flat panels behind them that give off a splotchy orange glow for night shots, a cheat that’s very obvious in the exposed interiors seen to the right side of this render. But the Great Hall and Chamber of Reception have large windows into large spaces with known interior architecture, so I didn’t want to fake it with these.

I think I next need to add details to the pepperpot, and then either the link building or the terraces around the Great Hall. We’ll see what order I end up springing for. I’m also going to need to create a new texture for the paved horizontal surfaces like those terraces – so far I haven’t done anything like that.

We’re Back! …at Least for Now!

Well, it only took a pandemic to get me back into this project! After the better part of a year working on other stuff, I’ve reopened my Hogwarts 3D model and begun adding onto it again. I still have some other big projects I’m working on, so I don’t know how much further I’ll get or at what speed, but it’s nice to at least have an update!

The first order of business was to finish up the main window of the Great Hall. The exterior version of it, that is – in interior scenes, the top of the window has a pointed arch shape, whereas the miniatures (and, for Deathly Hallows, computer models) used for exterior shots had a rectangular shape. Here’s a render of the end product, using a familiar camera angle from last year:

Felt good to have that finally finished! Next I began the central spire above the Great Hall, as well as the dormer windows along the roof. That spire is notable because of how steep it is. The castle originally had a lot of short spires, most of which became much steeper in POA, but this one was steep like this from the beginning:

Just like olden times, I got to wrestle with different references (film frames, production photos, photos of the model from the Warner Bros. exhibit, technical drawings, photogrammetry from the films, etc.) and try to reconcile them all into consistent dimensions. This can be surprisingly difficult at times, although it got easier when I remembered that the Great Hall got widened after POA – that explained some of the biggest discrepancies.

With the addition of more detail, the Great Hall itself is now finished, more or less:

I say “more or less” because the other side of the Great Hall is where it interfaces with the chamber of reception/entrance hall, depending on your preferred verbiage. That side is currently a featureless wall:

The next steps will be to start adding the entrance hall, which will cover most of that blank wall. Then we can add some of the terraces around these structures and the small building that connects the Great Hall to the marble staircase tower next to it. More to come, I hope!

On a more serious note, if you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well-isolated, as dictated by the severity of the situation in your area. These are crazy times and (he reminded himself) it is more important than ever to be forgiving and patient with each other – and ourselves. Sending lots of love!

Also Introducing…My 3D Star Wars Blog!

If you’ve been enjoying this blog so far, you might want to follow this new one I’ve started as well. Even as I track the changes to the design of Hogwarts, I’m also recreating the sets of the original Star Wars trilogy, including their real-world location within Elstree Studios.

If you’re not a Star Wars fan, don’t worry – the Hogwarts project isn’t dead. As promised, I’ve moved on to the Great Hall exterior. More on that coming soon, I hope. In the meantime, here’s a teaser…

Marble Staircase Tower, AKA Dumbledore’s Tower, AKA Turris Magnus

All right…as promised, it’s time for one of Hogwarts’ most recognizable exterior design features to go from simple block-in to fully detailed model. I’m talking, of course, about the marble staircase tower, also referred to as the turris magnus (on the Marauder’s Map) or Dumbledore’s tower. You can go all the way back to Stuart Craig’s original concept sketch for the Hogwarts exterior, and this tower is already there. It’s the biggest tower, the one on the left. A few of the details are slightly different than the final design, but it’s pretty close:

This thing is massive. To give you a sense of scale, in the real-world environment envisioned by the design team, the top is over 600 feet above lake level. The main body of the tower is 92 feet wide. The spire alone is over 200 feet tall, with somewhere around 50 feet of that being the enormous copper finial at the top. For my fellow Disneyland fans…the entire freakin’ Matterhorn would fit inside the spire. Near the top, that smaller triple turret on the left is Dumbledore’s office; the castle’s moving staircases sit below, inside the cylindrical body of the tower. Mr. Craig has readily acknowledged in interviews that there are design choices here that simply couldn’t be built in real life. Fortunately, magic covers many architectural sins, and personally, I think the films are all the better for it. The turris magnus is featured prominently in the very first shots of Hogwarts and it’s part of what made such an impression on me in the early 2000s.

The first detail I wanted to capture was the dormers sitting along the sides of the spire. This is where the ridiculous, over-the-top dragon chase in Goblet of Fire really came in handy, because Harry and the Hungarian Horntail end up on these rooftops, providing closeup miniature shots and even closer shots of a partial set for Daniel Radcliffe to interact with. I decided to incorporate all these details into the dormers, even though the main 1:24 scale miniature probably wasn’t quite this detailed. (The closeup shots were accomplished with other bespoke miniatures on larger scales.)

Let’s also pull back for a wider shot, including some detail work on the finial and the beginnings of work on Dumbledore’s office:

(By the way, sorry for that other spire near the bottom middle, the one that has the copper patina discoloration near the top but no finial. Keeps showing up in renders. Eventually I’ll add the finial, I promise!)

Next came the stepped corbelling at the base of the turrets of Dumbledore’s office, and their own much smaller spires began to take shape as well. This was all slightly complicated by the fact that what few technical drawings I could find were not quite accurate, but I think I got pretty close in the end.

Here’s where I ran into a conundrum, though. As I mentioned, the closeup shots in GOF were accomplished with larger miniatures built just for those shots. As I looked more closely, I realized that the design of these turrets is a little different in these miniatures than in the main miniature – mainly in the design and placement of the windows. I couldn’t decide at first whether to go with the more detailed alternate design seen in GOF (and the theme park versions) or just go off of the main 1:24 model. The former was tempting at first, since the changes were clearly done to help the exterior match the interior sets designed for Chamber of Secrets. Speaking of which, as massive as this whole tower is, Dumbledore’s office is actually still smaller than the actual set. I thought that was pretty interesting. Below is a very simplified version of the interior set (in white) next to the exterior, using the real-world scale of the set and the intended imaginary scale of the exterior. (The vertical protrusions on the right are where the windows are; they didn’t build the sets with full-thickness walls, so they look like they’re sticking out.)

Anyway, the main model’s design won out in the end, and you can see the corresponding simple window designs have been added here. I’m technically still working on the POA version, and the redesigned exterior wasn’t created till GOF; when I get to GOF, I’m sure I’ll build the redesigned version too.

That makes the spire more or less complete, although I may go back in and add in details like roof flashing where Dumbledore’s turrets meet the main spire. For now, I moved on to the main body of the tower, adding corbels and windows:

From there, it was just a matter of building the larger windows that cover the rest of the tower below! In studying my 16,000-pixel-tall collage of reference images for this tower, I noticed that the spire has actually been mounted on the tower at a variety of angles over time, and there were again some discrepancies between the actual model and the technical drawings. This made it harder to figure out the radial spacing of the windows, but in the end, I did some measurements on my old photogrammetry of the castle and settled on there being 18 windows on each floor. Hopefully that’s correct, haha. In any case, here’s the complete tower!

As I continue around this corner of the castle, we’ll next be proceeding to the only other feature that’s as visually important as the marble staircase tower: the Great Hall!

POA Hogwarts – South Wall of Quad Building

Still focusing exclusively on the Prisoner of Azkaban version of the castle. I’ve continued working my way counterclockwise (anticlockwise, to Harry and his Brit friends) around the quad building. The south wall is now complete.

If some of this architecture looks pretty unfamiliar, there’s a good reason for that: you never get a good look at this wall in the films, at least in this design iteration. Finding adequate references for the buttresses and the arch-shaped depression was quite a challenge, and there’s still a bit of guesswork on some of the details, but it should be pretty accurate. The tracery on the windows between the buttresses was particularly tough…there are no closeup shots of these that I can find anywhere, and they vanished in OOTP, so it’s not like you can go photograph them on the miniature in the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. But I lucked out and discovered that the same window design was used inside the quad (AKA paved courtyard) in the OOTP video game, and that provided some good reference. (Speaking of windows, the windows in this render really show how hollow the quad building is right now. Eventually, I’ll have everything filled in so you’re not looking straight through from one side of the building to the other.)

It’s a short post for today, but that’s just because I want to be able to devote the next post to the major element I’m working on this evening: the castle’s main tower, variously known as the marble staircase tower, the turris magnus, or Dumbledore’s tower. I’ve had a very simple version of the tower in there since the start of the model, but now it’s time to get all the details in there. More soon!