Night Falls on Hogwarts

I liked that fire material from the last post so much that I kept finding myself virtually lighting the torches and switching to that day-for-night setup. Eventually, I got wise and decided to create a dedicated “night mode” for the model. It has a different HDRI for the background (a cloudy daytime scene from that I made much darker and bluer), stylized blue lighting to match the moonlit shots in the first couple films, and interior lights behind some of the windows. Compare:

Best of all, I realized I could use Blender’s node group functionality to create a single slider that would allow me to change all the different settings between day and night simultaneously. I also did the same for the two color modes (the warmer look of the first two films, and the desaturated look of the later films, seen above).

Both tasks were made easier by some behind-the-scenes organizing I’d been doing. The procedural (algorithmic) brick texture on all the walls had gotten really complicated, because I was layering so many different elements together in the pursuit of a realistic and visually pleasing result. For kicks, I thought I’d share what the brick material’s node tree looked like before:

Each of those little gray boxes (nodes) is a set of calculations, receiving inputs and sending outputs via those light gray lines that connect them to other nodes. I’d organized them into those colorful groups, each of which has a descriptive label, but it was still a pretty ugly setup and not that easy to use or “read.” Here’s the same material after visually organizing the node tree a little better:

Not only does this look cooler, but it’s a lot easier for me to just jump in and make changes or additions where needed. (Which I’ve already done repeatedly since taking that screenshot…the setup is even more complicated now, but still nicely organized.)

You might have noticed that long wall at the bottom right of day/night renders, connected to a small tower. These new additions will barely be seen in the final version of the POA model – they were part of the original model from the first film, but starting in Azkaban, the landscape became much hillier and it literally swallowed up most of the wall and the entirety of that tower. But I decided to build the whole thing now so that it would be easier to create the versions for the first two films when the time comes. Here’s another shot:

There’s also some work happening here on that wall beneath the hospital wing bridge, just to the right of Gryffindor Tower in this image. Here, let’s take a closer look with the clock tower and hospital wing temporarily hidden, and some improved texturing on the roofs and spires:

Windows, dormers, drainpipes, corbels, the whole nine yards. That wall is done now, and you can even see some work happening on the tower on the right. Fast-forward a bit, and here’s a closeup of that tower, now complete as well:

Some of this geometry was definitely tricky to get right, but it was worth it in the end. I also had a lot of fun with the decorative elements near the top – there’s a triquetra near the top of each dormer, plus some sort of decorative plaque just below. I couldn’t quite figure out what is embossed in the plaque, so I just sculpted something that looked similar and baked it as a normal map. [EDIT 4/24/19: I finally found a clear enough photo of the plaque – it’s the Hufflepuff crest! Guess I’ll have to go in and redo it at some point…] You can also see the new diamond-shaped muntins in the windows, which are now in all the windows of the castle so far. (I admit that I didn’t go procedural with these…I briefly tried, but it just seemed more efficient to use a single diamond image that I could tile all over the glass.)

Taking a closer look, though, the roof shingles aren’t supposed to get flattened out in some places like that. Always more to be done!


Fixed Vertical Scale, POA Training Ground Entrance, & Hogwarts Torch Sconces

Okay, I might have overreacted a little bit. The vertical scale issue didn’t take that much work to remedy; I forgot how relatively little I’ve modeled so far. A 5% increase in height got everything back on track, although I had to be careful with a few shapes that needed to stay perfectly circular or perfectly square. Here’s how the results look:

…yeah, pretty much the same as before. Hey, it’s only 5%. But this small fix will help ensure that all the different structures line up correctly as I continue to build.

Hippogriff-eyed viewers might notice the addition of the so-called training grounds entrance, just to the right of the DADA tower. I say “so-called” because it stopped being an actual entrance after Chamber of Secrets. Originally, this small cubical building connected to the suspension bridge on one side and the training grounds on the other. But then the suspension bridge moved in Azkaban, turning this building into a dead end that could only be accessed from inside the training grounds. It never changed back. Still, this seems to be the name that the fan communities are using, so I’ll roll with it. (Except for in the internal layer organization of the model, where I stubbornly refer to it as “small cubical building.”)

While you’re taking a peek at this modest addition to the model, you might also notice the torches burning on either side of the archway. I’d been meaning to model the black wrought iron sconces seen in numerous exterior shots, and this was the perfect chance. As always, I started without texturing:

As I worked on this, I noticed that the bowl of the sconce was always empty in daytime shots, but always full of visible firewood (?) when the fires are lit at night. I’m taking a similar approach. Here’s a classic day-for-night shot of the torch by Sirius’s cell atop the dark tower, created by significantly reducing the brightness of the daytime background HDRI:

I’m rather proud of the simple little fire material I created, too. It’s a volumetric shader applied to a roughly conical shape, with black firewood shapes down in the base. The 3D texture that simulates the characteristic shapes of the flames is tied to the world coordinates, not the local coordinates of the individual fire object, which means I can duplicate the exact same torch and fire objects but still get a unique pattern of flames on each one – very important in areas where multiple torches are in close proximity. Then, when switching back to daytime renders, all I have to do is rewire a couple of nodes to hide all the firewood and flames across the entire model.

The one thing I didn’t like about this render was that some areas of the stone bricks are just too smooth, though. So I went back in and beefed up the normal maps that simulate the rough, bumpy surface texture. If you look closely, you can see a bit of it in this last render of the training grounds entrance, though I’ll probably keep tweaking it as I continue. (Also, I forgot to un-hide the lake surface below for this render, so you’re just seeing the photographic bottom of the HDRI background. Whoops.)

One last thing I keep forgetting to mention: If some of these buildings in this model look like they start too low or are too tall, that’s just because the surrounding terrain will cover most of the base areas. Because the terrain is so uneven, there are lower areas that get exposed here and there, and my model already includes those lower areas. Once I’ve got the ground and the hills and the ravines in there, it’ll look a lot more…Hogwartsy.

Measure Twice, Build Hogwarts Once


One of the first things I do on a project like this is set up all my technical drawings and references to scale in 3D space. No sense in starting a model if the different elements aren’t even to the same scale. So when I started this project, sure enough, I was careful to set up all my reference images to scale.

Or so I thought. I just discovered an issue with the vertical scale: it’s around 3-4% too short. I don’t think the issue extends to the horizontal dimensions; I just need to stretch some of the elevations vertically. (The elevations in question are Prisoner of Azkaban drawings; I’m using perspective-corrected photos of blueprints at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, so there was always the potential for the vertical scale to be wrong, but I thought I’d already fixed that.)

I know that a few pieces of very useful height data can be found in a drawing in Harry Potter: Page to Screen, which I really should have picked up a long time ago anyway, so I’m off to Barnes & Noble later today. Then I can start the arduous process of figuring out which elements of the model need to be fixed…

More POA Hogwarts Texturing

Well, so much for turning the materials off and focusing on the modeling again! The process of creating and tweaking and refining these textures has become a bit addictive.

Here I’ve created a shingle texture for the roofs and spires. The finials have also received a copper patina treatment to match what we see in the films. (Again, no image textures here – all procedural.) Less obvious are some subtle adjustments to the brick texture. Notice how the bricks no longer appear to be all perfectly flush with each other – some stick out slightly further, like you’d see in real medieval construction. There were still more tweaks needed, though. In particular, I wanted more vertical streaks to mimic dirt deposits from years of rain and weather. Those are quite noticeable on the “real thing.” Many hours later…

…that’s more like it! Still not perfect, but I don’t think I’ll be able to convince current versions of Blender to do any more on their own. I could paint the streaks in myself, but I’m still really trying to stay procedural so that when I build the rest of the castle, the brickwork and weathering and dirt patterns will all just magically appear without any further work. (Unrelated, but you can also see a few contour lines down near the shoreline. Once these are completed, they’ll act as a guide for me to sculpt the landscape the castle sits on.)

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the first couple of Harry Potter films, you might be thinking that this castle looks awful colorful. Were the bricks really that red, the roofs really that bluish? Well…yes, at first. The Hogwarts we see in Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets has pretty saturated colors. Here’s a frame from the latter, for instance:

It was really only once we got to Prisoner of Azkaban that the colors took a turn for the grayish green. At least part of it was just color grading on the film; it’s hard to tell if the miniature itself received a cooler paint job, but if it did, it wasn’t as dramatic a difference as it appears in the film:

That’s more or less the color scheme we see through the rest of the series, and the theme park versions at the various Universal resorts don’t stray far from this look. So despite my original intention to just get the original look of the model, I created an alternate coloration for the model, too:

It’s still not as green as what we often see after the first couple films, but it’s at least closer. I set up the material nodes in Blender so I can quickly switch between color schemes across the whole model; I suppose I’ll probably stick with this coloration while I continue work on the POA version, but the more colorful version will be ready to go when I start working on the castles of the first two films.

I’ll round out this post with kind of a cool, different shot of the castle in silhouette. You can see I’ve finished the windows on the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower, although I discovered a small mistake in the lowest row of windows after this render was made. Unfortunately, this angle also highlights some of the areas where the bricks don’t map quite right onto the forms of the castle. After a lot of experimenting, I’m starting to think this may be as good as the mapping is going to get. But who knows?

The Defense Against the Dark (3D) Arts Tower – Plus the Textures of Hogwarts

Work continues on the Prisoner of Azkaban version of the castle. My tentative plan at this point is to more or less finish this iteration before fully jumping to any of the other films…but I’ve been known to jump around, so who knows.

The latest structure to take shape is one that other Potter fans seem to refer to as the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower. Apparently the video games place the DADA classroom in this tower, so the community rolled with it. Anyway, this was first seen in Sorcerer’s Stone, and it stuck around through Order of the Phoenix,with a slight relocation from Azkaban onward. (After that, it was replaced by the Astronomy tower, which is basically just a taller and more extravagant repurposing/redesign of the DADA tower.)

There he is, just to the left of the Dark Tower. Basic shape starting to form.

As I continued to work on the top part of the tower, I realized that the DADA->Astronomy transformation (transfiguration?) actually “revealed” some parts of the DADA tower that weren’t visible before. Presumably, these were designed specifically for Astronomy, but I figured it’d be more efficient for me to just create them from the start and conceal them with the remaining DADA structures; then they’ll be ready to go when it comes time to do Half-Blood Prince. Below you can see the Astronomy-ish version on the left, and then on the right we see one of the turrets that conceal some of the geometry on the DADA version.

Then I started adding a few more details on the top part of the tower, resulting in the following render:

…which I liked, but I was starting to get fed up with my plain blue placeholder for the lake surface below. I knew I didn’t want to spend time creating (and rendering) full-on water shaders, but I thought it would at least be cool to try to create some atmospheric perspective (mist) along the horizon. In the process of working that out, I started running into some ways to break up the surface of the water a bit, too, and I couldn’t help myself. Soon enough…

That felt like a good step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough. I kept going and eventually ended up with this shot, which I gotta admit, I really like.

The reflective water shader has some procedural variation in the roughness to simulate areas with more or less wind. There aren’t any actual waves, though…if I ever decide I need to get in close, it’ll need more work. Then there’s some volumetric fog along the horizon. (It’s literally just a huge torus with some cloudy volumetric shaders on it; I distorted it and put it way out in the distance to help blend the edges of the water with the HDRI background.) I love how my fog blends right in with the photographic clouds just above, particularly from this angle.

Now I was in full-on texturing mode. If I were a wiser man, I’d save all this for after I finish modeling…but where’s the fun in that? I decided I wanted to start experimenting with textures for the castle itself, too. And I decided I wanted to go all procedural.

I mentioned that word before, “procedural.” I’m inevitably going to use more CGI lingo in these posts than I have time to explain for those of you who don’t do 3D art, but this one is worth delving into for just a sec. Basically, anytime you apply a texture to a computer-generated object, the two most common ways to do it are to apply images to the surface or to work procedurally. A procedural texture is one that doesn’t involve any images – instead, you’re telling the computer how to mathematically generate the imagery based on the surfaces it encounters. There are many pros and cons to each, and they each have a lot of uses. One of the pros to going procedural is that if you set it up right, it’ll conform to stuff you build in the future, too. And of course, I still have a lot to build.

Anyway, bottom line, I’m trying to completely avoid using pixel-based images in this main castle texture. After fiddling with dozens of nodes, I came up with this:

We’re starting to get there. It’s beginning to have that stony, bricky, castley look. These color patterns were starting to work for me, but the nodes weren’t behaving quite the way I expected with regards to the way light reflects off the surface (specular, roughness, and normals). I found the problem, did more tweaking, and arrived at this improved version:

The difference is fairly subtle, but to my eye, this looks a lot more realistic and lot more accurate to the films. (Of course, getting a single texture that fits the look of all the films would be impossible, since the color grading changed so much after the first couple of films, making everything kind of greenish-gray. I’m trying to just match the physical miniature as best I can.)

Still, this is very much a work in progress, and it probably won’t be too long before I turn the textures off and just focus on modeling some more.

Complete in 3D: Gryffindor Tower (POA Version) and the Dark Tower!

The rest of the work on the Prisoner of Azkaban version of Gryffindor Tower proved pretty easy. The remaining windows came together quickly.

I even added this mysterious pipe-like thing that juts out directly over Harry’s window (near the top middle of this render). No idea what it is…it’s been there at least since Goblet of Fire, probably since Azkaban or earlier, and it’s still visible to this day in the main VFX miniature at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. If you happen to have any idea what it is, be sure to leave a comment!

You also can see I removed the suspension bridge at the lower left. It’s not completely deleted, just moved to a hidden layer; it needed some reworking that I just don’t want to deal with at the moment. It’ll come back eventually.

Work then moved on to the Dark Tower. Whereas Gryffindor Tower was just revised a bit for the third film (mainly making it taller), the Dark Tower was an entirely new addition. Its purpose was to provide a visually dramatic location for Sirius Black’s cell at the end of the film. It sits roughly where the real-world Durham Cathedral chapter house structure sat in the first two films.

The basic structure of the tower is super simple – just a slightly tapered cylinder with an off-center pyramidal base. Sirius’s cell is perched right on top; the render above shows the front wall of the cell beginning to take shape. I kept going and eventually finished all the detail on the top of the tower.

The most interesting challenge ended up being those four stone gargoyles near the top of the tower. These are never seen up close in the films…they pretty much just look like vague oblong shapes with a skinnier protrusion at the end. But I started doing some digging in the various video games released around this time, and I found some much closer shots. To my surprise, the games reveal a design that looks more like a vulture than anything. Now, the games obviously use 3D assets built specifically for the games, and the design can totally change in the process of translation from film to game. But these closer shots seemed consistent with the blurry shapes visible in the films, so I decided to just go for it. They gave me some fun practice with sculpting and retopologizing.

The rest of the tower really doesn’t have much more detail on it, so I’m calling it finished! Here’s a render showing the completed tower with the rest of the model so far. Fun fact – Harry’s window actually looks pretty much straight at the tower where his godfather ends up being briefly held. That’s kinda sweet. Whoops, this isn’t true – the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower totally blocks the view of the Dark Tower from his window. Never mind!

I’m planning on starting what fans have been calling the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower next. See you soon!

3D Gryffindor Tower; or, Harry Potter and the Cursed Corbels

In the last week, I got fed up with some parts of the Prisoner of AzkabanHogwarts exterior near the suspension bridge that I really can’t find much information on. So I decided to switch gears and add more detail to Gryffindor Tower – in particular, I wanted to create the corbels that support the top part of the tower, where the boys’ dormitory is.

It turns out this is tougher than I expected, and it turns out explaining why is pretty tough as well. It has to do with the way the corbels shrink inward (or don’t) toward the center of the tower, and the way they extend all the way out to become part of the circular shape of the tower, and the way they have semicircular notches carved out between them. You can see a few examples of these designs in this shot from Sorcerer’s Stone, although Gryffindor Tower itself isn’t visible here.

This became quite a roadblock. Every time I thought I had it, Blender would spit out results that looked wildly wrong. So damn frustrating. So I did what any responsible adult would do: I threw up my hands and switched over to something completely different, a music project I’d been working on prior to the Hogwarts project.

As a result, I spent the last few days not thinking about polygons or Array modifiers or enchanted Scottish castles, and it turned out that this did a world of good…when a piece of missing hardware stalled my music project, I reluctantly decided to give the corbels another shot. And whaddaya know? I figured them out pretty quickly!

It took a mixture of Array and Screw modifiers on different objects combined with Boolean operations in a specific order. The results aren’t anything insanely spectacular to look at, but they’re decently accurate, and I should be able to use similar techniques elsewhere on the castle. (Ignore the vertical banding on the tower, by the way; you’ll sometimes see this in curved areas I haven’t yet bothered to smooth out.)

One interesting challenge with this tower is that some of the details actually change from shot to shot in a given film. The reason is simple: some of the visual effects shots in the films are actually composites of multiple miniatures on different scales. The main castle miniature was built at 1:24 scale, which is great from a distance. But for closeup shots, the team built larger versions of specific sections of the castle and composited them in with the main model. For instance, this VFX shot of Gryffindor Tower from Goblet of Fire is nicely broken down in a video at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. The first image here shows a smaller model with part of the tower removed; the second image shows what it looks like when the larger, more detailed miniature of the tower is composited in, allowing for quite a close shot.

This wouldn’t pose any issues for my model, except that it turns out there are actual design differences between the different miniatures in some cases. For Gryffindor Tower, I was specifically noticing the cornice around the base of the conical roof. It has a decorative sort of double curve to it here, right? Well, compare it to the main miniature in this photo from the aforementioned Studio Tour:

The cornice is much simpler and flatter. I’ve spotted a few other spots that change like this. So that raises the question…which version do I create? So far, I’m mostly opting for the most detailed versions I can find; notice that my render above includes the more detailed version of the cornice. But I’ve got to admit, it feels weird to built something that doesn’t fit with the design of the main model. (That’s another reason the suspension bridge is tricky, incidentally…its design actually changes depending on whether we’re looking at the main model or a closeup.)

Anyway, I gotta go build some more castle windows. More updates soon!

3D Photogrammetry Scans of Universal’s Hogwarts

One of the ideas that struck me fairly early in this project is that it would be cool to compare the theme park versions of the castle to the “real” versions in the films. If you’ve ever walked through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Hollywood, or Japan, you know just how overwhelming it is to approach the towering facade of Hogwarts. Very effective theme park design.

Even so, much of the castle has been removed, the remaining sections have been modified, and the scale has been significantly reduced. (The filmmakers built their original Hogwarts miniature with a very specific real-world scale in mind.) The theme park version is highly evocative of the castle seen on the silver screen – specifically in Half-Blood Prince – but it’s still its own thing. (Three things, actually, since there are even slight differences between the versions at the three resorts.)

So…what would it look like to plop the Universal version down next to the cinematic version? That’s a question I intend to answer as the project progresses – hopefully with renders of them side by side! – but for now, you’re going to have to settle for these incomplete and very rough 3D scans of the Hollywood version.

These images are the fruit of photogrammetry, the science of extracting 3D measurements from photos. On a recent visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, I took about 400 photos of the castle. After heavily color-correcting these shots in Photoshop to bring out shadow detail, I threw them all into Meshroom, which dutifully set out to create a textured 3D model from the photos without any need for human assistance.

The first attempt failed. Unfortunate, but not surprising. There were angles I couldn’t capture due to the geography of the park and my own time constraints. (Not to mention the fact that we were trying to, you know, enjoy a day in the park!) Meshroom got confused and couldn’t connect all the disparate parts into one unified 3D model.

Not a problem. When I split the photos into six different sets that focused on smaller sections of the castle, Meshroom handled each set just fine on its own. Then I brought them together in Blender and manually lined them up with each other on top of an aerial photo. An HDRI sky added a bit of visual interest to the environment.

The scans needed a lot of manual cleanup, and even so, you can still see a lot of yucky fringes and artifacts, especially around the edges of each scan. That’s totally fine for my purposes…this is all just a rough guide for when I create my own model from scratch.

Still, interesting to look at, huh?

What Hogwarts Design Changes?

[EDIT 8/14/20: Wow, this post continues to be among the most popular on this blog! Clearly I’m not the only one interested in the changing architecture of Hogwarts. If this is your first time visiting, be sure to check out the rest of the blog too!]

All right, time for that mega-post I’ve been slowly working on for the last few weeks! Finishing this today has been a nice distraction as I try to recover from a nasty cold and/or ear infection and/or laryngitis and/or sinus infection. Off to see the doctor in just a bit to figure out what’s going on.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, you probably only caught one or two of the changes to Hogwarts while watching the films…and even then, perhaps it was barely a conscious realization. That’s good! That means the filmmakers were successful in preserving the “feel” of Hogwarts even as they had to change, add, and remove certain structures to meet the needs of the various stories (and various directors). Because yes, they made changes throughout the films – large, small, and everything in between.

Just what were those changes? Let’s take a small detour from my model work and find out! Here are the changes I would consider major, in chronological order. I’ve attempted to find photos that illustrate the changes, though the angles are often very different. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list, either. There are plenty of small tweaks I’ve left out – adding a small extra turret, slightly moving a wall, tweaking the angle or height of a structure, etc. Those will be part of the model, but there’s no sense detailing every one of them here. Oh, also, I’m also just looking at exteriors; the interiors aren’t really part of the scope of this project. Even so, it’s gonna be a long post. Bear with me.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Stuart Craig and his team designed and built the first iteration of the castle. It’s a physical miniature at 1:24 scale, although it’s still so huge that a person can stand at lake level and their head won’t even reach the bottom floors of the castle.

Side note: this may be my favorite shot of the castle from any of the films. I do really like some of the changes to come, but boy, does this image stick beautifully in my mind.

Anyway, onward!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Relatively modest changes, but still noticeable…

To accommodate the Herbology scene, the greenhouses were added to the northeast corner of the castle. (The “before” shot is of a 3D model created by Matt Wright during the production of the first film – check out his website!)

The Whomping Willow was added nearby, on one of the lawns of the real-world Alnwick Castle filming location.

The curtain walls walls and small towers surrounding those lawns were redesigned to look partially ruined and less Alnwick-like.

The roofline of the nearby training grounds tower changed. (At this point, this structure is still basically a section of Alnwick, but with a different taller roofline.) The below comparison also gives you another view of the change to the curtain walls.

Not too many changes, right? Oh, just you wait…

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Okay, big changes here! The first is stylistic. Most of the spires in the first two films are fairly short. But in this film, many of them were made significantly taller and steeper, creating a much more Gothic look.

Time plays a big role in the film’s climax, so a new clock tower was added behind the castle. This was connected to the existing structures with a new enclosed bridge, which also attached to a new hospital wing on top of the existing castle. Attached to the new clock tower is a new courtyard, and attached to the courtyard is a new wooden bridge across a ravine. (This was one of the few additions I noticed when I first saw the film.)

At the other end of the wooden bridge is a stone circle and a path leading down the hill to the new site of Hagrid’s redesigned hut…all the way on the opposite side of the grounds from its location in the first two films! (The nearby Whomping Willow similarly moves somewhere down here.)

What Dumbledore refers to as the “Dark Tower” is added as the location of Sirius Black’s holding cell. This necessitates the slight relocation of the semicircular tower and suspension bridge that were already in this area, as well as the removal of a small structure modeled directly after the Chapter House at the real-world Durham Cathedral (another filming location for the early movies).

You can also glimpse some significant changes to the landscape in the shot above. You know the Quidditch training grounds seen mainly in the first film? The spot where Harry learns to fly? Yeah, the landscape literally swallows up much of this area as new hills form behind the school. The curtain walls that enclosed this area now disappear right into the hillsides, as you can see near the bottom left. This is part of a larger trend of removing Alnwick Castle influences from the castle over the course of the series.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A much more modest set of changes, but important nonetheless. For one, the hills behind the school added in the previous film become the location of the owlery, a relatively small tower that stands alone on a rocky outcrop.

The entry area at the front of the Great Hall is revised with a second clock tower and a new courtyard (often referred to in fan circles as the Viaduct Courtyard) is added in front.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Whoa. No major changes here that I’ve been able to find, although a few of the remaining short spires get steepened to match the changes in POA.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the last film to use the physical miniature, so this is the version that can now be seen in person at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London.

The Astronomy tower plays an important role in this film, and the team ended up designing an entirely new tower to fit the bill. To make room for it, the Dark Tower and the semicircular Defense Against the Dark Arts tower get axed, although the new Astronomy tower does share some design elements with the latter. (The snowy “Before” shot is from Chamber of Secrets, in order to better match the angle. Ignore the pre-steepened spires on the nearby towers.)

One of the last few vestiges of Alnwick Castle, the training grounds tower, gets replaced with a much simpler version with a smaller footprint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

The filmmakers decided to go with an all-digital Hogwarts for this final entry, for better flexibility in shot design (and to make it a lot easier to create battle damage). Although the CGI Hogwarts is generally designed to be identical to the miniature, there are still some changes.

For starters, the Viaduct Courtyard gets significantly enlarged, as this is a major location in the Battle of Hogwarts.

The original viaduct – a feature dating all the way back to the first film! – is removed. Instead, there’s now a new, larger viaduct. Rather than connecting one half of the castle to the other, it connects the castle – specifically, the enlarged Viaduct Courtyard – to an adjacent area of land. (The area of the courtyard that connects to the viaduct receives some new gatehouses, too.) This is the location of several notable scenes, including the final scene before the epilogue.

Down at lake level, the boathouse is seen up close for the first time, and it gets a somewhat revised design. (The DH shot is a render of the 3D model as posted by Nic Henderson on his website.)

Interestingly, what remained of the training grounds area – all the curtain walls and so forth behind the greenhouses – doesn’t make it into the CG version of the castle. Perhaps this is simply because they knew weren’t going to have any scenes back here. With that, the last traces of Alnwick Castle’s real-world design elements are removed.

Lastly, the wooden bridge that was added in Azkaban gets lengthened. (Before Neville blows it up, that is.) Still the same basic design, though.

Beyond the Potter Films: Universal, Fantastic Beasts, etc.

As the films were wrapping up, Universal Studios opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, featuring an impressive Hogwarts facade on the exterior of its headliner attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This was built on a smaller scale, relying on forced perspective to make it look like it matches the scale seen in the films. The design seems to be somewhat loosely based off the front of the Half-Blood Prince version, as it includes the Astronomy tower (sorta) but the courtyard/viaduct configuration doesn’t reflect the Deathly Hallows changes. (The entire back of the castle is also missing, since it can’t be seen from inside the park.) Similar versions are later built in Hollywood and Japan.

Although the Harry Potter films end with Deathly Hallows, Hogwarts makes an onscreen appearance in the Fantastic Beasts series as well. It seems to be identical to the CG version seen in Deathly Hallows, though I haven’t looked at it in great detail. (Since this takes place many years before even the first Potter film, it essentially retcons the castle as having always looked the way it does in Deathly Hallows.)

The castle is also explorable (sometimes even on broomstick) through a variety of console games for the various films. The castle designs are typically similar to those of the corresponding films. There’s also Pottermore’s “Welcome to Hogwarts” feature, which seems to be based on the DH2/FB CG version, but I haven’t looked into it closely enough to be able to document differences, if any.

So What?

Whew. We’re coming to the end of this mega-post. Only one question remains: if all these changes can already be seen in pictorial form, why bother with a model? Well, here’s the thing…I’ve selected the best comparison images I could find for this post, but you’ll notice that as I said, the before/after camera angles are NEVER identical. Why should they be? The different films get to show the castle from different angles, under different lighting schemes, emphasizing different aspects of its design for a variety of aesthetic and plot-related reasons. The only problem is that it makes it a lot harder to do really quick and direct visual comparisons. Your brain has to adjust to the new angle even as it looks for discrepancies.

So the aim of this whole model project is simple: I want to be able to lock the camera down (virtually speaking) and watch the castle change from film to film. The parts that stay the same will be identical quite literally on a pixel-by-pixel basis, while the changes will immediately jump out. It’s going to take a while to get the model to that state, but I’m sure enjoying the journey. More to come soon!

Hogwarts 4D Progress: “Azkaban” Suspension Bridge Takes Shape

One thing about me is that I don’t like to stick to any one part of a personal project for too long. So sure enough, I’ve put the Alnwick model on hold as I’ve jumped back to the Prisoner of Azkaban version of the castle.

At the moment I’m mainly focusing on an area of the castle that’s not very visible in the films. On a basic level, the castle (not counting any outbuildings, etc.) consists of two separate buildings that are attached by a few bridges over a deep, narrow ravine. The northern building is modeled largely after Durham Cathedral while the southern building includes the rather more unique designs of the Great Hall and Turris Magnus (the tall, steep tower with Dumbledore’s office near the top). It’s the southern building that I’m working on at the moment…but I’m focusing on the northern facade, the one that faces the other building. The filmmakers didn’t have many reasons to send their cameras through that area…but that doesn’t mean I can’t!

Obviously there aren’t any textures here, but this is another example of an area that’s approaching final levels of detail. The last few renders are especially cool to me because they’re from angles that would be impossible in the “real world” – the camera would be underground, or inside the northern block.

Some of my most proud moments since the last post have included sculpting a bas-relief Hogwarts crest (seen on the white square near the top of the last render above) and figuring out the Turris Magnus spire, whose shape smoothly blends from a hexadecagon (16 sides) to a circle near the base. I also like the suspension bridge, one of three footpaths between the two blocks of the castle. (Its biggest moment in the films is in Goblet of Fire, when the dragon chases Harry right through/past it…but that shot is over in, like, a second.)

Ooh, as an added bonus, here’s a fully navigable version of the model via Sketchfab. There are some numbered annotations that point out landmarks. I don’t plan on uploading one of these for every single future post, but I’ll try to do it from time to time so you can go exploring.

Have fun!