Across the Viaduct!

With the SS/COS grand staircase side project complete, let’s hop back over to the main model!

The basic layout of Hogwarts in all the films is divided into two halves – a wing to the south where you have things like the Great Hall and the marble staircase tower and Gryffindor Tower, and a north wing that’s largely based off of real-world architecture at Durham Cathedral and Alnwick Castle. There are three footpaths that connect these halves:

  • The viaduct, which is by far the most noticeable, as it’s the largest and it’s situated right out front. This one goes all the way back to Stuart Craig’s early concept designs, and it stayed virtually unchanged all the way till Deathly Hallows, when it was enlarged and reoriented to become the main route into the school. (A new stairway was added so that there were still three paths connecting the halves of the castle.)
  • The stone bridge, which is much shorter and rather higher up than the viaduct, but still quite visible. It also dates back to the early concept art.
  • The suspension bridge, which isn’t seen particularly often but remained more or less unchanged throughout the films; it just moved around a little.

Each of these was in a different state in my model: the viaduct didn’t exist at all, the stone bridge was complete, and the suspension bridge existed as an early attempt that I hid sometime last year. I decided to hold off on that till later, but I did need to get the viaduct in place so I could start work on the north wing!

There’s a lot of good reference out there, so the viaduct wasn’t particularly difficult:

You may notice I’ve begun adding some subtle atmospheric perspective or mist to some of these renders…it can really help provide some depth and separation, particularly since the entire castle is pretty homogeneous in terms of color and texture. That’s becoming more important as the castle continues to sprawl further and further out.

Anyway, with the viaduct completed, I turned my sights to the so-called viaduct entrance – as in, the entrance to the north wing from the viaduct, not the entrance to the viaduct. It’s framed by two towers that remained largely unchanged throughout the films; their spires just got a little steeper in Order of the Phoenix. They also added a window to Snape’s dungeon at the base of the one to the left, but that’s hidden from a lot of angles…and since I’m working on the Azkaban version of the castle right now, I don’t have to worry about that yet anyway.

I began adding the left tower, as well as the semicircular area at the end of the viaduct. This is also a nice silhouette of the stone bridge in the background:

Once the details started really coming together, including the shallower spires seen prior to OOTP, I mirrored the left tower to the right side as well. (The two are identical, other than the fact that one of the windows on the left tower is replaced by a door to the stone bridge.)

Here they are complete!

That smoke sim is paying dividends…I’m really digging in in this render.

The wall that connects these two towers is interesting. It forms the southernmost face of the so-called long gallery, sometimes even just referred to as the Durham building because as I said, so much of its design is based off of Durham Cathedral. That cathedral was a real-world filming location for the first two films, and there are some areas of the miniature that follow its design pretty slavishly so as to meld well with the location shoots.

This south wall, though, corresponds to an area of Durham never seen in the film. This what it looks like in real life, courtesy Google Street View:

Since they never shot any scenes right here, there was freedom to modify the design for the visual effects miniature, which looks like this:

As you can see, the miniature retains the overall shape and dimensions, but many of the details have been changed. The large rose window is replaced with a much smaller and less “churchy” version, and front doors have been added – front doors that are identical to the doors to the Great Hall, which are in turn identical to real-world doors at Christ Church at Oxford. (The doors are, however, scaled up to about twice the size – nearly 30 feet tall in the imagined real-world scale the miniature represents!) The windows are very Oxfordesque as well.

Anyway, I began adding this south wall:

I didn’t have to create those huge Oxford doors completely from scratch this time…the archways in the grand staircase side project are variations thereof, so I was able to bring one of those archways into this file and modify it appropriately. (I admit it’s kind of a hodgepodge of super-precise areas and others that are merely close to correct…ssshhh, don’t tell anyone.)

I then added the four house crests – plus the main Hogwarts crest – above the door, using bump maps to simulate the relief. Here’s a student’s-eye view from the viaduct:

It’s especially nice now that I remembered to make the windows visible! Ignore the light under the doors though.

I don’t know why I was psyching myself out prior to starting the viaduct entrance…I had this weird gut feeling that it wasn’t going to look right, or I wouldn’t be able to get the dimensions to all agree with each other, or something…but I really like the way this is turning out! Stay tuned for more updates as I add windows, the triangular area with the small rose window, and the two small spires on either side!

SS/COS Moving Stairs, Continued

Let’s take a detour back to the moving staircases of Hogwarts! Thus far, as seen in this post, the environment has been very generic – just a tall rectangular space of the correct dimensions. Let’s fix that.

The biggest problem – we’re talking physically biggest – is that there’s supposed to be an extra chamber in the bottom section where the big window goes. Even if I’m not going to add the window yet, I can at least add that chamber:

Notice also the addition of a blue screen floor. This sits at the floor level of the actual set and also corresponds roughly to its footprint. Below that, I’ve lowered the main floor to reflect the slightly greater depth of the miniature. This is important because I won’t have room for the whole window if I leave the floor at set level. (The window only existed in the miniature, as far as I’m aware – though that changed in the redesigned Prisoner of Azkaban set.)

Next step is to hide the blue screen floor and add the lamps that help light the space:

(None of this is intended to look as realistic as the main castle model…the materials are very basic and these are just quick renders with Blender’s Eevee engine, which specializes in speed at the cost of physical accuracy.)

With lamps in place, let’s start adding the passageway that leads to this room from the Great Hall/Chamber of Reception area. (This was not part of the miniature as far as I’m aware, but it most definitely was part of the set.) This area is interesting because the production design draws very heavily on the real world – specifically, the steps at Christ Church Cathedral at Oxford, where the Chamber of Reception interior scenes were shot. You can see this most clearly with the large stone arches, which were built to match the ones at Christ Church, tying the sets and location shoots together into one shared imaginary space. The doors to the Great Hall set use the same arch design as well…a fact I’m grateful for, since the Warner Bros. Studio Tour was kind enough to post detailed drawings of those doors. You can see the same design on the castle exterior model as well, though I haven’t built those parts yet.

As always, things start with a confusing mess of intersecting curves that gradually coalesce into something more recognizable:

One of these arches is used as the entryway to the main room with the moving stairs:

Nice to be able to duplicate the design as needed:

Those rather ghostly outlines are caused by the same “backface culling” feature that allows us to see into the rooms from outside.

With more walls, details, and openings coming together, this area is starting to look quite a bit like the set…

…minus all the paintings, of course. As I see it, I have three basic options with those. In order of increasing difficulty:

  1. Pull a Filch and omit them entirely.
  2. Scatter the walls with a variety of paintings that look right overall.
  3. Try to match the paintings seen in the films, frame by frame, painting by painting (and fill in the gaps with option 2).

I’m currently sticking with option 1, but who knows?

In any case, there’s still more work to be done here. I need to add the rest of those smaller arched openings throughout the room, and I need to add the large, ornate window on the opposite side. Look for those in a future post! I also still hope to do some videos and scale comparisons and whatnot once this side project is complete. I might need to invest in a new GPU before then, since my current equipment is crashing if I try to render any more lamps with Eevee…

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.