Sorcerer’s Stone Corrections & More Astronomy Tower

Sorry for the delay in this post. Loooooots of stuff going on in my personal life – some of it really good, some of it not so much.

I was slowly working on the Astronomy tower in the midst of all that when this spectacular YouTube video dropped on the official Wizarding World channel. The never-before-seen photos of the original castle inspired me to revisit some areas, the first of which I documented in this video of my own:

I’ll warn you that it’s a slow video, but I got requests for some modeling without the usual time lapse speedup, so…there ya go. Here’s the unadulterated render from the end of the video.

I’ve got more fixes to make based on the new photos, but I’ll save those for a later post and round this one out with a bit of Astronomy tower progress.

There’s a lot of detail in the main turret where several important Half-Blood Prince scenes take place. Here’s an interesting “deconstructed” view as I start to build the area that also existed as a full-scale set. This is the lower level where Harry hides during the climactic confrontation, but without anything added above it yet:

Funnily enough, this is closer to how the book version of the tower would look, in that it’s got a flat top and crenellated ramparts.

One challenge is that the dimensions of the full-scale set don’t quite match the dimensions of the miniature, at least according to the available blueprints. I’m aiming for something of a happy medium – the goal is for it to look the way it does in the film, if a little less detailed.

Here the arches are starting to take shape. These were a little tricky because of the way they curve:

Continued progress on this tower will also have to wait till a future post, but in the meantime I thought I’d at least share something.

Quad Interior Fixes & Starting “Half-Blood Prince”

Short post for today!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not sure about some of the details inside the quad. It’s hard to find good reference. One particularly mysterious spot has been the wall that cuts the southeast corner at a 45° angle in this old render:

But then I found this video from Plowman Craven, a company that worked on some of the films. About halfway through, there are partial CG models of the OOTP castle. The last few frames of one of the shots give a low-res view of part of that wall. It’s not much, but along with the other glimpses we have, a better sense of what that wall looks like is starting to emerge.

First of all, I’m taking this as confirmation that the big window to the marble staircase was really there – and slightly higher than where I had it. There’s also a horizontal ledge just above it, and the top of the wall descends toward the right. This actually shows up vaguely in a few other images, now that I look again. It even looks like there might be multiple levels to the flat triangular roof area.

Anyway, I still don’t have anywhere near as close a look as I’d like, but here’s my revised attempt at recreating that wall as it might have appeared in the first three films.

In GOF through HBP, it would have looked similar; the floor was just moved up and the cloister removed.

Speaking of HBP…let’s start that version of the castle! There were numerous changes in this film, but by the far the most prominent one in the final cut of the film is the new astronomy tower. Here I’m prepping the surrounding areas:

The Durham section’s central tower (toward the right) has been shortened by 24 feet so that there are only 3 rows of small windows in the middle section rather than 5. I’d imagine this was for the sake of balancing the silhouette with the new astro tower.

But that tower is going to be a project unto itself, so I think I’ll save that for the next post!

(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.

Blueprint Appreciation Post

Technical drawings are the thing that made this Hogwarts project possible, full stop. I don’t remember which of these was the correct order of events:

  1. I stumbled upon some blueprints online and thought, Wow, I could actually do a 3D model investigating the changes!
  2. I thought, Wow, I’d really like to do a 3D model investigating the changes! and subsequently found some blueprints online.

But either way, I don’t think I ever would have started this thing without some floor plans to guide me.

For the first film, I’ve got two different scans of a single plan of the miniature. One is a high-res B&W scan; the other has much lower resolution and a tighter crop, but it’s in color. Interestingly, their perspectives don’t match, suggesting that one or both of them may have actually originated as photos, not scans. But regardless, here I’ve tried to align them together, applying the low-res color data to the high-res scan. I’ve also rotated it (to match the plans for the other films) and corrected the perspective.

I have a few observations. First of all, this is evidently the fourth revision, dated January 14th, 2001, but there were likely other revisions after this. I say that because this plan is not completely accurate. Flaws I’ve noticed:

  • The Great Hall balcony has the wrong shape – the corners are square and it doesn’t wrap around the north side of the structure.
  • The training grounds tower doesn’t indicate the circle tower where it meets the Durham courtyard structures.
  • The quad interior has the wrong dimensions.
  • The walkway along the east side of the quad exterior appears to have a single level, and the elevation is marked as (I believe) 220′. This is the same level as the adjacent stone bridge. The final design for the first film moves the walkway lower down, with the part nearest the bridge even lower still. This also calls into question the accuracy of the area north of the quad, for which I sadly have no adequate photo reference.

Still, this is an absolutely invaluable look at the original castle.

Sadly, I have no floor plans for the miniature in the second or third films. I very much appreciate Warner Bros. posting these Prisoner of Azkaban elevations at the Studio Tour in London, though:

These cover many of the main changes to the castle in that film, and they were the reason I started my project with the Azkaban castle.

Goblet of Fire is an interesting one. I do have one partial floor plan, but the whole Great Hall/boathouse area is all wrong, as is the quad interior. I suspect that one wasn’t the final revision either.

As you can see, this consists of two scans or photos overlaid on top of each other. This composite I did not do – this is how the image was posted by user “decat” at the RPF.

This drawing provides evidence for the quad cloisters still existing in POA. Presumably, they were still part of that version, and at the time this drawing was created, they simply hadn’t yet decided to raise the quad, add the new arch, remove the cloister and fountain, etc. This is also the only plan I have of the training grounds tower from the COS redesign, and of the adjacent pathway that would eventually change in HBP.

I have no drawings of the miniature from OOTP. Fortunately, not much changed, and the changes that did occur will be easy enough to replicate with help from photogrammetry measurements.

The final HBP floor plan was actually released by Warner Bros. in the book Harry Potter: Page to Screen. It’s a two-page spread, which is wonderful for being able to read all the writing, but it does put an unfortunate seam right in the middle:

Still, it’s a fabulously detailed view of a critical production document and I’m grateful for it. I’m not aware of any inaccuracies here.

The same can almost be said of the earlier version on display at the Studio Tour:

The odd tapering crop is the result of perspective correction, since the original photo was taken at an angle. Note the lack of even the small HBP training grounds tower, the dotted outline of the old DADA tower to be removed, and the more detailed plan of the new astronomy tower.

If that’s not enough for you, though, don’t worry – when it comes to the astronomy tower, MTV News has your back! (Of all sites!)

I haven’t built the astronomy tower yet as of this writing, but this drawing is going to make it a cinch.

The main DH floor plan has also been officially released, albeit with some photo overlays that obscure some of the writing:

That film’s substantial changes are on full display here. The Fantastic Beasts castle is virtually identical; if they did create any drawings for that one, I haven’t seen them.

The real danger in studying these closely is that they refer to all the countless detail drawings that have not surfaced, and likely never will. Always leaves me feeling like the proverbial mouse for whom that cookie was simply not enough.

But ultimately, there’s a real beauty in all these drawings, even if I always find myself wanting more. I’m grateful to the deeply skilled drafters who brought these to life, and to the folks who’ve made them available to us fans!

Starting the “Goblet of Fire” Castle!

If you’ve followed this project for a while, you know I jump around a lot. I’ve got a master “to do” list, but sometimes I get bored with an item – or, in the case of the walkways and cliffs from last time, sometimes I run out of references. So I decided to jump over to an all-new phase of the project: creating the Goblet of Fire iteration of Hogwarts!

I started with the south end, where the Great Hall is. Some of the surrounding structures didn’t change at all from the previous film, so I ported those over. But the Great Hall itself got tweaked and slightly repositioned. Let’s start with just the design changes – easier to compare the Halls when they’re still in the same spot.

Original on the left, GOF redesign on the right:

The main difference is that the front was lengthened. This section with the bigger window corresponds to the entrance hall, a set that didn’t really fit very clearly into any part of the original Great Hall/Chamber of Reception structure. When the length was extended, the dormer windows and central turret on the roof were adjusted to keep things visually centered. The turret at the back/top of the hall was also redesigned as well as duplicated at the front of the structure.

So that’s the new design. What about the new position? Well, it’s easiest to show that by overlaying the GOF Great Hall onto the original castle:

The original position is the one that’s higher up and closer to the big marble staircase tower. The new position allowed for a redesigned “link building” between the entrance hall and the marble staircase tower – again, better matching the interior sets – and put the Great Hall closer the same level as the viaduct and its new courtyard. (Originally, the Great Hall was significantly higher than the viaduct; students had to climb all those Oxford stairs in the Chamber of Reception to get up to the Great Hall.)

Here I’ve added the link building:

The reason the rest of the GOF castle is missing is simple: I’m doing it one structure at a time, whether that means simply making its previous version visible or actually building new stuff.

The next structures to tackle are the new front of the Great Hall/entrance hall building (replacing the Chamber of Reception) and the viaduct courtyard. I believe the courtyard was brought to life by redressing the clock tower courtyard set from the previous film. I started this area by duplicating and repositioning the corresponding elements from the clock tower area, resulting in…this:

Yeah, the clock tower is definitely taller than the Great Hall. Lots of other things to tweak, too. All that and more in a future post – make sure you hit the Follow button (at the bottom of the page on mobile, to the right on desktop) to get notified of new updates!

More Terrain Work

Sculpting, sculpting, sculpting…slowly, with many hours of rest to avoid aggravating my stupid arms…

Wrapping up the sculpting on this chunk of landscape:

Here’s an overhead view of the terrain so far. Play with the slider to compare the render (left) to a quasi-topological map (right):

The terrain just doesn’t look right, though, does it? I’ve been having a really hard time getting the colors of the rocks and foliage right. If I match one reference photo, it stops matching another…if I match one film, it stops matching another….if I match one lighting scheme, it stops matching another…if I match the rocks, it stops matching the foliage. Pretty tricky.

With more tweaks in this next render, we’re getting closer…

Then I paid a visit to and grabbed some rock photos. I scrambled those up together and used them to add a little photographic grit to my existing procedural rock texture.

We’re getting there! I’ll keep working on that texture. I also need to add some moss to the castle walls where they meet the rock.

Ending today with an unrelated render – I added a few more details inside the boathouse.

I reeeaaaally haven’t built this interior to hold up to this sort of scrutiny, so enjoy the rare close-up!

Back to Work

Well…the 2-3 weeks of computer rest didn’t do much good, sadly. We’re continuing to pursue other treatment options. In the meantime, I’ve been easing back into a bit of computer use, and I thought I’d share some of my (slow) progress with the terrain beneath the Sorcerer’s Stone castle.

Here I’ve resumed adding the next layer of detail to the area under the Great Hall:

I admit detailing everything manually was getting tiresome, so I finally started making use of this fabulous rock sculpting brush set from Blend Swap. I figure if the original modelmakers could use a mold of a big slab of coal, there’s nothing wrong with me using some photoscanned rocks for additional texture. This can be a good way to expedite the process of adding the countless tiny crags and crevices to the major forms I’ve sculpted. Then I can go back in and sculpt more details myself where necessary.

Blender’s “geometry nodes” system is getting better and better, so I started setting up a node tree that would add greenery to the top faces of the rocks:

Still needs work, but we’re headed in the right direction. I’ll round out today’s post with another angle and different time of day:

See you next time…hopefully before too long!

Continuing the Original Hogwarts Landscape

Still having RSI issues, but fortunately, sculpting doesn’t seem to aggravate them too much if I stick to the Wacom stylus in the right hand and the 3D mouse in the left. Anyway, more base meshes to be sculpted into the Hogwarts terrain:

You can see that I switched over to the first film’s castle there. I love the way the cliffs just under the back of the Great Hall buckle inward. They create a really cool silhouette that you can see in the first couple films. That area underwent small changes in Prisoner of Azkaban and then bigger changes in Goblet of Fire. It ended up with a convex shape that I find…more realistic, but less interesting. In fact, I think that whole corner of the terrain looks best in the early versions. It’s got some cool, designy rhythms to it, with asymmetrical outcroppings leading your eye upward to the Great Hall. They’re not as evident in the base mesh, of course:

We’re off the edge of the map here. Literally – I don’t have any technical drawings that go all the way out to this corner. But that doesn’t really matter, because it turns out the drawings aren’t very accurate for the terrain anyway. I don’t have any photogrammetry of this version of this area either, so it’s just a lot of flipping back and forth between different reference photos (with different lighting, focal lengths, resolutions, image quality, etc.) and trying to match every angle I can. It’s definitely a challenge. But it’ll be worth it to be able to showcase the way the landscape changes around the castle!

Anyway, that completes the base mesh for this chunk of the terrain…time to sculpt! I was a little nervous about the terrain on the two sides of the boathouse stairs matching up, since I’m building in two completely separate chunks. So it was exciting to see them starting to visually come together as if they’re one continuous landmass!

One of the amusing parts of this technique is just how insanely weird the undersides get:

It becomes very obvious that I started out by mushing a bunch of blocky shapes together, with no regard for how the bottom looks. Why not clean it up? I might at some point. But it’d probably be more work than it’s worth. I’m gonna stay focused on the parts that are visible.

The render below really showcases the difference in detail between my first sculpting pass and my second. The stuff to the right of the boathouse steps has had the second pass, while the stuff to the left hasn’t had it yet:

Even so, that’s starting to look positively Hogwartian!

This was the point at which I jinxed things by being too excited about the results I was getting. Something went wrong and shifted the whole cliff out of alignment in a weird way…twice. Still not sure how it happened. I had to revert to an earlier auto-save and redo a bunch of work in the area below…twice. Definitely frustrating. But it would have been way worse if not for the auto-saves…thanks, Blender!

That completed the first sculpting pass for this whole chunk of terrain beneath the Great Hall. The more detailed second pass should be in the next post!

Hogwarts Landscape Strategizing

Today’s post is mostly a big block of text, so let’s at least start with a few random renders of the project so far:

The viaduct area in Prisoner of Azkaban
The Transfiguration courtyard in Prisoner of Azkaban
The Alnwick Castle-based training grounds in the first two films

Now for some words! Lots of them!

So up till now, my castle models have been floating in the air, hundreds of feet above the lake. But I’ve hit a major milestone in the project: I’ve begun creating the rocky landscape the castle sits on!

Here are some factors informing my approach:

  • Many of the films have shots that repurpose views from previous films. These create significant inconsistencies within individual films. I’m disregarding them altogether.
  • At least for the first six films, the environment really has to be treated as two distinct entities:
    • The terrain that surrounds and supports the main 1:24-scale castle miniature.
      • This terrain was carved out of polystyrene, with rocky outcroppings of plaster molded from slabs of coal.
      • This terrain is quite consistent within each film and changes incrementally between films.
    • The lake and mountains that surround the miniature in the films.
      • Typically, the visual effects team integrated photography of Scotland into digital matte paintings and layered those onto 3D geometry.
      • Unlike the miniature, these CG environments change drastically from one scene to the next, not to mention from one film to the next. (The second film contains a particularly dramatic example: there are two establishing shots that use similar or identical plates of the castle miniature, but the surrounding terrain is totally different.)

The upshot is that you can’t create one single environment that will be 100% consistent with every shot in a given film. You can do it with the miniature, but beyond its borders, it’s literally impossible. So my approach there will be impressionistic. Still, I gathered reference images from each film. I carefully took note of common features between films and annotated them with color coding. I even had fun unrolling some of the panning shots into rough simulacra of the original matte paintings.

But you can only do so much researching and strategizing. Eventually you’ve just got to get started! So I hit the major milestone of starting to model the landscape a few days ago…but I’m going to save the renders for the next post. I should have a video for you as well. Doesn’t look like much yet, but the work has started; I’m just having to pace myself right now because of my repetitive strain injuries. But I didn’t want to go too long without at least posting something.

Be sure to click the Follow button to get notified as more updates come!

Roof Flashing, Version Mashing, & Quad Teeth-Gnashing

The next thing to add was roof flashing. It’s been on my to-do list for ages. (Not sure why I haven’t just been adding it as I go…) It’s not very glamorous work – no one looks at a render and goes, “Oooh, look at that beautiful roof flashing!” – but the model just doesn’t look quite right without it. Here’s what I’m talking about, as I started to add it:

There are ways of doing this kind of thing automatically, but I wanted it to look a little imperfect, so I used Blender’s “Snap to Face” functionality and drew it all in manually.

Here are the SS and POA models with all the flashing added:

(If you want to see the flashing itself, I’d recommend right-clicking to open the images in new tabs so you can view the full resolution.)

It feels like time to work on the COS version of the castle, doesn’t it? In almost every way, it’s just an intermediate step between SS and POA, so I figured it shouldn’t be too hard. Everything south of the ravine is identical to SS, although the real miniature did receive some touchups. It’s the north side that changes.

After mashing together the appropriate elements from the SS and POA castles, I proceeded to create the new training grounds, with their relatively flat lawns that existed only in this film:

I really like this version of the castle. Here’s the above render’s isolated mist pass, too, just because it looks cool:

But there’s one major element missing: the Whomping Willow! That’ll likely be the topic of my next post.

By the way, the original quad continues to vex. Deeply. I’ve really been enjoying the discussions in the comments about the cloister. It’s led me to a very divisive debate (in my own head) about whether its design owes more to Gloucester Cathedral or Lacock Abbey. I was pretty confident in the answer being Gloucester…but now I’m really profoundly split.

Reasons to think it’s Gloucester:

  • The whole courtyard is labeled “Gloucester” in the later films’ floor plans (after the removal of the cloister in question).
  • The quad building has Gloucester-style windows on south outer façade, and they almost had them at the same level on the west façade as well. All of these are around the same level as the cloister.
  • The paths and fountain aren’t an exact match to any location I’ve found, but they’re a lot closer to Gloucester than to Lacock.
  • The Lacock courtyard is never really seen in the films; the Gloucester courtyard is, if only very briefly.

Reasons to think it’s Lacock:

  • I thought all the films’ floor plans labeled the courtyard “Gloucester,” but I realized that what I’m reading on the early plans is just the word “cloisters.”
  • There’s a floor plan from the first film that shows the way some sets and real-world locations fit together in the filmmakers’ imaginations. It is substantially different from the layout of the miniature, but the Lacock Abbey courtyard and cloister are placed right next to the grand staircase.
  • From the overhead shot in COS, it looks like the cloister is rather tall, with a blank stretch of wall above the tracery. Lacock’s cloister has a similar design; Gloucester’s doesn’t.
  • Lacock is a closer match to the size of the quad.

Soooooo…yeah, I’m pretty split. For now, I’ve added the blank bit of wall and raised the cloister roof accordingly, but I haven’t changed the tracery to match Lacock. I’m waiting till I (hopefully) find some more reference material.

Anyway, be sure to “follow” so you can be notified when I post the Whomping Willow!