(Almost) All OOTP Changes in One Post!

Hogwarts didn’t change much in Order of the Phoenix; I was able to knock out the major changes in no time.

GOF on the left, OOTP on the right, and you can slide to compare:

As you can see, the south side of the quad building was changed. (The poor little GOF version only lasted one film!) I suspect this was because the quad floor was raised quite a bit in (I believe) GOF. The other change noticeable from that view was the addition of spires at the corners of the clock tower courtyard, on the far left.

Here’s another comparison, with SS on the left and OOTP on the right, to show how far we’ve come in the first five films:

(The SS landscape has been hidden to make it a “fair” comparison with the OOTP version, which doesn’t have any landscape yet.)

Anyway, back to GOF vs. OOTP:

We can see here the other big changes: the steepening of the spires at the viaduct entrance, the addition of a couple new spires, and the addition of Snape’s window, in the dungeon level just to the right of the stone bridge. These tweaks were all featured in a single shot that pulls out of Snape’s office, through the window, and up into the snowy sky above Hogwarts, past the steep spires.

Otherwise, Snape’s window is pretty hard to glimpse; it’s basically out of sight at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, and there are no other exterior shots of it in the films that I can think of. So here’s a closer view of my recreation:

At close range like this, you can see that the tracery on some of the windows is pretty flat. But I only have so much time to devote to this project, and I’m already drowning in polygons.

Anywhoodle, let’s wrap up with another SS vs. OOTP comparison, showing the whole castle.

Same castle, but…not! Which is kinda the whole point of this project, I suppose, haha.

By the way, I’ve been careful with my phrasing in this post, because these are not ALL the changes in OOTP. The stone circle by the wooden bridge mysteriously disappeared (only to reappear in future films), but I haven’t built the stone circle yet so there was nothing to remove. I also may build Hogsmeade Station when I build the environment, and that got a brand-new design and location in this film.

GOF Boathouse Stairs

I’m back! I’ve been way too busy to put much time into Hogwarts, but I’ve been able to sneak in enough moments here and there to have an update for today.

Big staircases with lots of landings and odd angles aren’t necessarily super fun for me, but they’ve gotta be done. The GOF version of the boathouse stairs kept the same look as the original, but they were all reconfigured so they could meet up with the viaduct courtyard. They only changed once more, in DH, when the viaduct courtyard and boathouse both changed.

I started cannibalizing bits and pieces of my original build to create the GOF version, working from the bottom up:

At this point, it was just about getting the pieces in place. I knew I’d fix all the spots where they intersect once I had the overall setup right.

As I finished arranging the different flights and landings, I was surprised to discover that the steps were vertically overshooting the viaduct courtyard by a significant margin. On the left is the too-tall version; on the right is the same thing after squashing the whole thing down a bit:

Then it was just a matter of clipping off all the extra bits so the pieces actually fit together neatly – the most tedious step of them all – and adding the flambeaux that light the way. Here are the complete GOF steps on the right, compared to their predecessors on the left:

We’ll wrap up for today with an interesting plan view of the GOF castle, with the original boathouse steps superimposed as well:

Hoping my next update will not take this long!

Starting the Whomping Willow (COS Version)

Let’s recreate the original Whomping Willow! It was added to the training grounds in COS. That location – and even the tree’s very presence in the miniature – is unique to to that film. (In all the later films, the redesigned Whomping Willow was off the edge of the map, somewhere past Hagrid’s, and it was brought to life purely through CG and full-scale practical elements.)

The first step was to figure out the exact placement. I don’t have any floor plans that show precisely where it sat in relation to the other structures, but one of the behind-the-scenes features does give a decent shot of that area of the miniature. I lined up the camera angles and added a circle to mark the base of the tree. It seems to be just about dead center in that lawn! This further reinforces my belief that this area’s walls were redesigned for the express purpose of giving the Willow a more interesting setting. They almost create a kind of arena around it.

Next up: creating a base mesh. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to match the tree in the film perfectly, but I wanted to capture its essential rhythms, character, and scale. I ended up annotating film screenshots with color-coded numbers to help me keep track of the different major branches. It’s a strategy that served me well with the grand staircase model.

I carried that color coding into the model itself as I started the base mesh. As with the tree in the clock tower courtyard, I decided to use the Skin modifier in Blender. This lets you quickly extrude chains of vertices and apply a basic radius parameter to each, creating blocky forms that become tubular with the Subdivision Surface modifier. Here are a couple of work-in-progress shots:

As you can see, the base mesh is SUPER photorealistic. Can’t even tell it’s not a real tree! …right? (My girlfriend says it looks like a piece of corporate modern art, and I don’t disagree.)

Don’t worry, things started to get a little better as I Boolean-ed all the branches into one object and began the sculpting process.

There appear to be some stony areas at the base. I experimented with sculpting them all as one mass. When that didn’t look right, I tried using physics simulation to “drop” all the stones on top of each other in a realistic pile. But sometimes simplest is best, and in the end, it was most expedient to separately sculpt each rock and lay them on top of each other manually. Another pass of Skinned tubes allowed me to start blocking in the tree’s tangled roots:

Obviously very rough; the idea is just to build some geometry that will take well to further sculpting. And while I admit I wasn’t SUPER excited about this switch from hard surface to organic modeling, I soon found myself enjoying the sculpting process once more. It’s gratifying to see these basic shapes start to look like something!

This was around when I realized my proportions were a little off. The main trunk needed to be a little bigger relative to all the branches. I made some adjustments and kept sculpting, working my way up into the knuckles and knobs where all the younger shoots will soon go:

None of this is an absolutely perfect match with the film, but I’m certainly trying to stay close. That crevice on the left side of the trunk is based on one visible in the film; in my headcanon, that’s where the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack is. (We only see the entrance to the tunnel in the next film, and the Willow was redesigned for that one.)

By the way, in case it’s not obvious, I haven’t started texturing the tree or the rocks yet. The flat coloration is just temporary while I continue refining the forms. I’ll save all that for the next post, as well as the addition of all the shoots on top that’ll really give the tree its characteristic look. But I think we’re off to a good start!

Finishing the Bell Towers – “Azkaban” AND Original Versions!

Here we go – those bell towers need to be completed. I finished the intricate openings and decorative motifs in the middle parts of the towers. Fortunately, these never changed in any of the films, even when the tops of the towers changed, so I only had to create them this once!

Then, to complete the bell towers, I added the tops of the towers, which are very similar to the top of the central tower – just shrunk by about 23%, and with a few minor design differences. I was grateful for this not only because it allowed me to reuse elements from the central tower, but also because I discovered a mistake in the central tower in the process. All fixed now!

Of course, there are two versions of the bell towers: the original design, and this Prisoner of Azkaban redesign. With the latter complete, I decided to switch over and do the former as well!

Sadly, photogrammetry is no help when it comes to the original tops of the bell towers, but their simple design is pretty easy to eyeball. A few of the smallest details were educated guesses – for instance, I’ve added windowpanes in a few areas that could just be openings.

Anyway, enough talk – let’s compare the two designs! Drag the slider below to compare the original Sorcerer’s Stone design (left) to the Prisoner of Azkaban redesign (right). (The smaller tower above the Long Gallery will also come and go, since that was added in Chamber of Secrets.)

Here’s a reverse angle:

Surprise – there’s the original design of the central tower, too! I snuck that in there as well.

Viewing the whole castle from lake level, you can really see what a difference this simple redesign of these three towers made in the castle’s overall silhouette and character. My model is also looking a lot more complete overall!

Adding the wall between the bell towers was easy, since all of its elements are similar to stuff I’ve already created. I briefly considered tackling the greenhouses next, but then I got distracted by the adjacent walls that bring us to the training grounds tower and the middle courtyard, which will probably be where I go in our next blog post.

In the meantime, Ms. Rowling continues to tweet disappointingly misguided things about transgender people. For what it’s worth – if you, dear reader, happen to be trans, non-binary, or a member of any other oft-marginalized community, know that this Hogwarts (incomplete though it may be) will always be there to welcome your awesome self, and so will I.

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!