Continuing the Curtain Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COS-OOTP Training Grounds Tower, Cont’d

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting the Training Grounds Tower

Holy crap! I can’t believe we’ve arrived at the final major tower of Hogwarts! I’ve been eager and afraid to tackle it because of its complex geometry and the limited reference available. Let’s jump in!

The training grounds tower was added to the original castle out of sheer necessity. Alnwick Castle was used as a major filming location so they needed it to be present in the miniature. Stuart Craig’s team tweaked its footprint a bit and built it up into a much taller complex of towers; the bottom floors just looked like Alnwick while the upper floors took their stylistic cues from the original castle’s other conical turrets. Evidently Mr. Craig didn’t like the vertical extensions, because they were totally redone for the second film in a style that slightly foreshadowed the more Gothic look that would take over in the third film. (Interestingly, some COS shots still feature the SS version.) That revision stuck around till Half-Blood Prince, when it was replaced with a single tower echoing the bell towers’ design.

Since I’m working on the Azkaban castle right now, it’s that second iteration of the tower that I’m focusing on. And “focus” is indeed the right word, because I’ve spent a lot of time just staring at reference images and…thinking. Trying to piece it all together. Eventually, I started working on the facade toward the right:

This is the project’s first render with the OptiX denoiser, which wasn’t compatible with my GPU till Blender 2.90. Denoising is critical with path tracers like the Cycles render engine, where speeding up the render introduces more noise. I was using Open Image Denoise before, but OptiX is faster and it’s retaining more detail, so I’m pretty stoked!

Anyway, training grounds tower. It’s proving as challenging as I feared/hoped it would be. The modeling itself is not particularly difficult, but the paucity of high-quality reference images makes it difficult to piece together all the details, especially since I want to get the scale right.

I’m keeping an eye on the original version too, since the lower section is identical and I want to make sure I can reuse it without any issues.

In a twist that will shock precisely zero longtime readers, I’m finding lots of small discrepancies between shots of miniatures, location shoots at Alnwick Castle, CG long shots, etc. As usual, I’m striving for something of a happy medium, but weighted toward the main 1/24th-scale miniature.

There’s still a lot more to do on this structure, but it’s been 10 days since I last shared my progress and I think I’ll save further progress for my next post.

(Abandoned?) Side Project: The Literary Hogwarts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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