Finishing the Training Grounds Tower (COS-OOTP)

Still not sure how I want to handle the statues on top of the Alnwick Castle structures, so I’m hopping back over to the training grounds tower.

Part of this little corner still needed to be filled in. It’s hard to find good reference for that spot on the miniature, and it does seem to be somewhat different from the real thing at Alnwick. I decided to just do my best (and add the footpath where Hagrid drags the Christmas tree through the snow):

There are a few torches that show up over here in some shots in Chamber of Secrets, but I’ve elected not to include those – their positions aren’t always clear or even consistent from shot to shot, and I’m not sure whether they were ever in the main miniature.

Around the other side of the structure, I’ve accepted the difficult truth that I may never find adequate reference for certain details. I’m using the real structures at Alnwick to fill in the gaps as best I can. Fortunately, some of those real-world details are visible in the background in Sorcerer’s Stone, so I feel justified in including them.

This shorter structure on the right corresponds to Alnwick Castle’s 19th-century chapel, and from what I can see, it seems to have been a pretty exact recreation in the miniature:

Incidentally, see that rectangular depression a ways to the left of the chapel, above the arched recessed windows? In real life, the heraldic symbols of the Percy family are there. In the Hogwarts miniature…I can’t tell. It’s too tall to just be a Hogwarts crest. So I’m just leaving that blank for now. If you’ve got closer images of the miniature here…please send them! I’m always on the hunt for new rare photos or blueprints of the miniature.

In the meantime…here’s the complete training grounds tower, as it existed from Chamber of Secrets through Order of the Phoenix!

Fun fact: In the last render above, we’re sitting on the clock tower courtyard roof. The foreground cylindrical tower on the far right is of course Gryffindor Tower.

You might notice that I’ve removed the Alnwick Castle barbican/gatehouse and adjacent walls. Or rather, I’ve moved them so they don’t exist in my Prisoner of Azkaban model anymore, since that area will be covered up by hills. Don’t worry – those structures still exist in my nascent Sorcerer’s Stone model, and they’ll become part of my Chamber of Secrets model too.

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.

Starting the Training Grounds Curtain Walls (POA Version)

Yikes…it’s been a long time since my last update! Sorry about that, folks. One of the many factors: the training grounds tower is tough! It’s hard to find enough reference images. So to give myself a break, I switched gears to focus on the castle walls.

The curtain walls and small towers surrounding the training grounds were originally derived from those at Alnwick Castle. A large swath was then redesigned in the second film, probably to add visual interest in the Whomping Willow scenes. The westernmost areas (near the first flying lesson) still stayed the same until the third film, when they were swallowed up by hilly terrain. In effect, only the COS redesign remained. That’s the state the miniature is still in now, although the CG version in Deathly Hallows and Fantastic Beasts omits the walls altogether.

I started at the western end of the COS revisions:

This illustrates some of the challenges in mapping the stone brick textures correctly to the model when the angles get funky. I’ve tried to create a material that just behaves correctly no matter what I build, but sometimes I need to get in there and manually fiddle with the mapping to get it right.

These structures all look strangely tall right now, but eventually the terrain will cover up most of the lower areas:

They’re also in pristine condition compared to their appearance in the films, since significant chunks of the above-ground areas have crumbled away. But it’s always easier to create the full “original” structure and then weather away the parts you don’t need.

Here’s the same view with some more adjustments, details, and additions, but still no weathering:

And now, swinging around the easternmost area, we link it all up with the areas that are directly taken from Alnwick Castle:

I’ve also fixed the mapping of the brick textures here:

Some of these areas don’t quite match between the blueprints, the photogrammetry of the miniature from the Studio Tour, and the real-life correlates at Alnwick. I’ve aimed for a happy medium that tends to favor the actual miniature.

Then and only then do we get to the weathering, by way of a Boolean modifier. If you don’t know what that is…well, imagine carefully shaping a floating glob of poisonous molten radioactive alien laser acid that will eat away any part of the wall it touches. Actually, you know what? I won’t make you imagine it – here are my Boolean acid globs:

And yes, the glowing lava look is a critical part of getting the Boolean modifier to work right. TOTALLY necessary. 100%. Anyway, move the above slider back and forth to wipe away the glowing poisonous molten radioactive alien laser acid lava and reveal the weathered stone beneath.

I’ve still got to built the western half of the curtain walls, the parts that weren’t changed from their Alnwick-like state. But I’ll save those for a future post so I can at least have something to share with you now!

More Training Grounds Tower

Wow, I did not mean for the last couple months to slow down so much! I’ve been busy with some unrelated projects. My apologies for the radio silence! But I thought I’d at least share a brief update.

As you can see in the new render above, I’ve been continuing to work on the training grounds tower – the version that existed from Chamber of Secrets through Order of the Phoenix. I can see why Stuart Craig took the opportunity to replace it with a much simpler tower in Half-Blood Prince, but I do have a soft spot for this rather charmingly awkward design.

One thing I’d never really thought about was the huge number of very diverse and irregularly spaced windows on this structure. I decided to start carving out the holes before worrying about the frames and panes; that way I could easily make adjustments. My reference images are limited for some of these areas…I’ve had to accept that some of my window holes may be off by a few feet or have a slightly different design:

It ain’t perfect, but it’s a start. The bottom parts of these walls are the hardest, at least if the goal is to be accurate to the miniature. You would think they’d be identical to the corresponding spots at Alnwick Castle – spots that are even seen in the backgrounds of the location shoots in the first film – but you’d be wrong. I’ve seen enough to know that there are differences…just not enough to know exactly what every window looks like. Looked, I suppose I should say…it’s certainly not part of the model anymore, and who knows what happened to it.

Anyway, as I said, I’m pretty focused on some other projects at the moment, so I apologize if there’s another long gap before my 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.

The Transfiguration Courtyard

Time for a Hogwarts feature that’s right out of Durham Cathedral, at least in its original form. The cloisters were used as the filming location for the “middle courtyard” or “Transfiguration courtyard” in the early films, though it was later represented by a similar courtyard at Oxford and then by a set at Leavesden.

I first spent a morning working on under-the-hood tweaks to hopefully improve the file’s performance – downrezzing overlarge normal maps, replacing duplicated objects with linked proxies, decimating some meshes that had gotten too dense, etc. The hope is that my computer will be able to handle the file a little more easily moving forward. No sexy renders to share for that, though, so here’s a cute puppy photo instead.

Anyway, back to Hogwarts! A big question cropped up as I was compiling my references: How much detail do I put into the cloisters – specifically, the doorways that lead to other parts of the castle? These are seen in the location shoots in the first two films, but at least some of these were evidently left out the miniature. (They never would have been visible in the film, so I can appreciate the decision to focus elsewhere.) Furthermore, the south walk (which corresponds to the east walk at Durham) changed repeatedly over the course of the films, and I have no idea what the cloister interior looked like at that point.

I figured the most reasonable approach would be to create the complete courtyard without those doorways and then see if I could get away with it in my renders. I started with the tracery of the cloisters and a basic ground plane:

This part was easy because I’d already built the clock tower courtyard – its cloisters contain a lot of design elements adapted from Durham Cathedral.

The fountain in the center of the courtyard was next, and this one’s going to give me some trouble later on…not because it’s hard to create, but because it’s unclear exactly when it vanished. Let’s break it down:

  • It was created for the first film, apparently as a set dressing that sat on top of the lavatorium (monks’ handwashing station) that sits in the middle of the courtyard at Durham.
  • It’s still there in the second film, both on location and in a bespoke 1/8th-scale model of the courtyard used in an overhead establishing shot.
  • The center of the courtyard is never visible in the third film, so that one’s a question mark.
  • As I mentioned, goings-on in the courtyard were shot at Oxford instead of Durham Cathedral for the fourth film, so the location looks totally different and won’t be reflected in my model. There is an aerial shot during the First Task when we briefly see the Durham courtyard, but if the fountain is there, only the very top of it is peeking over the roofline.
  • No idea in the fifth film…
  • In the sixth film, the courtyard was realized as a set that included the base of the Astronomy Tower. (I suspect this was a revamp of the viaduct courtyard set, which I suspect was a revamp of the clock tower courtyard set.) There’s no fountain in that set, but that set is far from a perfect match to the miniature. I can’t find any shots of the center of the courtyard in the miniature, but the fountain is gone from the technical drawings and I’d imagine the same is true of the miniature.
  • In the final film, the fountain is again missing from the technical drawings, and this is confirmed with a CG overhead shot of the area.

With all that in mind…until I can find more reference that confirms which changes were made when, I’m just going to assume the fountain lasted till the sixth film, at which point it was removed and never came back.

Anyway, I added the fountain and started the sewer grate. I also added the benches, which seem to have been more set dressings. You can see in this render that I’ve finally mirrored the east walls of the Long Gallery onto the west side, too:

That’s the first render I did with the new Blender 2.90. It’s got some great new features, but it kept crashing when I attempted to render. After some troubleshooting, I figured it out: this version of the software doesn’t like my old smoke simulations. That’ll need to be addressed, but for now, I’m afraid the hearths of Hogwarts have gone cold.

That structure in the top left corner of that render is a newly-added Durham Cathedral transept, the last missing piece of the Long Gallery. In the first film, this one was a simple mirror image of the one on the other side, but when the Dark Tower (center) was added in Prisoner of Azkaban, this transept had to be shortened a bit, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical footprint that lasted right through the end of the series. Easier to see from the air:

As you can see, the one to the left of the central tower isn’t as long as its counterpart on the right.

One interesting thing about this courtyard is that each of its four sides has a different look. I next took care of the north wall, which corresponds to the west wall at Durham:

You’ve no doubt noticed that the cloister is still roofless – I decided to save that for after the surrounding walls were built. Speaking of which, here are the last of them:

It’s hard to find detailed reference for the wall on the right (above the two benches) in the miniature. Its design is similar to that of the corresponding wall at Durham Cathedral, but there are some differences. To make matters worse, there are some apparent discrepancies in the number of windows in the various Hogwarts images available, but there’s a good chance that what I’ve done is accurate to the state of the main miniature at the time of POA. And if not, it’s at least quite close – it could be that there are supposed to be six windows on the shorter part of the wall instead of five.

Anyway, the only remaining step was to add the cloister roofs! With these in place, the answer to my “big question” became clear: No, I didn’t need to add doors and other details inside the cloisters. They simply aren’t visible unless you’re actually inside the cloisters, and I’m okay with not having detailed views inside there. So with that in mind…voilĂ , the complete transfiguration courtyard!

Incidentally, I love that structure just above the center of that render, below the DADA tower. It was added in the third film when the DADA tower got shifted over a bit, and it’s basically just a Durham Cathedral transept, except, like…a standalone version. Something about it tickles me. Naturally, everything will look better once that wall next to it has an actual building behind it, but that’ll come with adding the final major piece of the main castle: the training grounds tower!

What Was There Before the Hogwarts Greenhouses?

It’s not a question that you could answer just by watching the films. Here we have to rely on behind-the-scenes shots and technical drawings from Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone to reconstruct this area in its original state.

But first, I knew I needed to finish up this area as seen from Chamber of Secrets through Half-Blood Prince! I finished the curtain walls and added lawns:

Here’s a cool POV shot coming down the back steps of the Durham building:

That’s a wrap for this area in the Prisoner of Azkaban 3D model! But what did it look like at the time of the first film? Well, you still had curtain walls surrounding a large, L-shaped lawn, but the walls weren’t quite as far from the castle, and instead of the domed conservatory acting as the entryway, you had this relatively simple, squarish, Alnwick Castle-inspired building:

This side of the building is actually seen in a couple of shots in the film, but I haven’t been able to find as much detailed information about the other sides – in particular, the opposite side that faces the castle proper. For that facade, I’ve just used the same details as what you see here, but I can’t deny the possibility that some of the details were a little different. (I wonder in particular if they really would have put the Hogwarts crest on the other side.) Unless I find elevations or images of that part of the miniature, I may never know…when the greenhouses and conservatory were added in COS, this small gatehouse disappeared forever.

Anyway, here are a couple of before-and-after sliders to play with! On the left is the Sorcerer’s Stone castle; the right is Prisoner of Azkaban. (The changes we’re currently focused on occurred in Chamber of Secrets, but you’ll of course see some Azkaban changes too.)

I’ll wrap up this post with a view of some additional work I did next on the west side of the Alnwick Castle warder’s tower. Here there are again some details that differ a bit between the VFX miniature and the real-world filming location; I’m primarily going off of the miniature, though Alnwick does provide invaluable reference as well. I guess you could say my goal is to capture the shared imagined reality that the model and the location both help bring to life.

The two contenders for my next area of focus are the transfiguration/middle/Durham courtyard and the training grounds tower. I’m much more excited at the prospect of doing the latter, but I think I may tackle the courtyard first. Be sure to subscribe to be notified with future updates!

You Can Never Have Too Many Greenhouses

The 3D model of the Prisoner of Azkaban castle keeps chugging along! After completing that first greenhouse, I duplicated it three more times:

These four all share the exact same design, but then there are four more along the east side of the Durham area, and their dimensions are a little different, so I had to create (and thrice duplicate) a new variation over there:

And then at last there is Greenhouse Three, which is a smaller lean-to on the castle’s outer wall. (You can catch a glimpse of it in the above render.) This is the greenhouse where the Herbology lesson with the mandrakes takes place. It’s got its own unique design, so I took care of that next. Some of the dimensions here don’t line up quite as precisely as I’d like, but I’ve tried to minimize the number (and visibility) of compromises as much as I can:

You can also see that I’ve also added rust, adjusted the weathering of the wood, and started with the footpaths between the greenhouses. I even threw in one of the largest vines that snakes its way out of the greenhouses, visible toward the bottom right:

In the background, you’ll see that I’ve begun the curtain walls around the greenhouse area. These were actually there in the original design of the castle, even before the greenhouses were added in Chamber of Secrets; they just had to be pushed outward a bit to accommodate that addition. Here’s a better view of their progress:

See where the wall stops on the right? That’s going to be the site of the final greenhouse structure, the domed conservatory that also acts as the only way out of the greenhouse courtyard and into the grounds. But I’m going to save that for the next post. I’m hoping to even share something I’ve never seen before: an interior view of that conservatory*!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a slightly different aerial view of the POA model so far. Still plenty more to be done, but we’re getting closer!

* If they happened to include the conservatory interior in any of the video games, let me know! I haven’t played them but I’ve looked through longplays on YouTube and never spotted it.

Starting the Greenhouses

Hogwarts got its greenhouses added in Chamber of Secrets. They sat undisturbed in what was formerly an open courtyard until Deathly Hallows Part 2, at which point some adjacent architecture was removed and the greenhouses expanded a bit to fill the empty space.

My own 3D recreations of these greenhouses provided some fun challenges right off the bat. As I alluded to in the previous post, I was surprised to realize that they are not all identical. I mean, I knew that there was a lean-to attached to the wall of the castle as well as a domed conservatory out front, but I’d assumed the other greenhouses were octuplets. No such luck. The ones that run parallel to the Long Gallery aren’t quite as long as the ones that run east-west along the north facade, though they’re made of the same basic building blocks.

As always, I wanted to get the details and dimensions right. Without much in the way of detailed technical drawings, I resorted to making some quick-‘n’-messy diagrams to organize my thoughts and measurements.

Quick and messy, like I said, but it really helped me figure out how to proceed with the modeling. I started framing just one wall of just one greenhouse, laying out the largest support posts every 10 feet. Some of these will eventually have sculpted dragons on top, but those’ll come in a future blog post:

Blender’s Array modifier makes it easy to just work on one segment and have all the others update accordingly. No textures at this point either – I knew the white paint would later need to be scuffed up a bit.

Adding more details, temporarily pretending that the greenhouses don’t have any doors:

The familiar question of whether to follow the miniature or the set cropped up yet again. Actually, it’s more complicated. The greenhouses didn’t show up often in the films, but they got a glorious establishing shot in Chamber of Secrets. The VFX team put together a very impressive shot that moves across the lake, over the grounds, and right through an open window into the lean-to, AKA Greenhouse Three. The shot combines the 1/24th-scale Hogwarts miniature (and CG background) with a live-action plate shot on the greenhouse set, and it’s pretty seamless, especially for the early 2000s. But the camera has to go right up to the greenhouses, exposing a lot of detail…and at 1/24th scale, some of that detail wasn’t going to hold up. So they built separate 1/8th-scale miniatures of the three greenhouses the camera would get closest to. For whatever reason, while those larger bespoke miniatures match the design of the set, the main castle miniature is slightly different. I’m mainly talking about the windowpanes – they’re narrower and more numerous in the main castle miniature.

Sooooo…what to do? Follow the set and 1/8th-scale miniature, or follow the 1/24th-scale miniature? I take these decisions on a case-by-case basis, and for the greenhouses, I ultimately went with the wider windowpanes from the set and 1/8th-scale miniature (for a variety of reasons).

Here we go – doors and details and preliminary materials.

Starting to add the beams for the roof:

Hey, it looks kinda like a greenhouse!

By this point, I had been really debating exactly how much interior detail to do. This project file just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which means my computer has an increasingly hard time keeping up. It’s thus in my best interest to only include the details I need – but of course, the greenhouses are rather transparent, and I still wanted to them to “read” correctly from the outside. Once I had them fully enclosed, I was able to see how the materials interacted with the light and decide how much interior detail I needed to include. Not much, it turns out, as long as I don’t let the glass get too crystal-clear:

Some of the geometry got slightly messy as I went around the corners of the greenhouse, trying to respect all the various reference images as much as possible, but I’m pretty happy with the result:

For a moment, I thought all I had left to do was sculpt the decorative dragons on top, but then I remembered that I needed to pop the roof hatches too – otherwise, how would the camera float in for that great shot in COS?

(These are all open at random angles, BTW…I’m anal, but not anal enough to match them exactly.)

Anyway, I’ll be sculpting the dragons next, but we’ll save that for a future post, hopefully in video form. I’ll also need to create all the other greenhouses using the same components. See you next time!