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.

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When Durham Met Alnwick: The Warder’s Tower Story

My Prisoner of Azkaban model is really coming along now. I’ve continued into the area where Durham Cathedral architecture starts to collide with Alnwick Castle architecture. I also tweaked some of the wood textures and added some narrow slits I missed on the Dark Tower.

The greenhouses will eventually sit in this area, but I’m more interested in the Alnwick stuff at the moment. First up: a short structure that’s virtually identical to the warder’s tower at Alnwick. (I mean, it kinda had to be, since they shot stuff on location there!) I’d actually already started this structure early last year. You can see it in this old render from the very beginning of this blog:

This was all done in a completely separate file, and of course it was before I had created my trusty Hogwarts brick materials. Feel free to read more about it in this early post.

Bringing this model over into the main file was relatively easy, especially since I’d built it to the same scale to facilitate this eventual migration. Here’s a rather similar angle of the exact same partial model, but properly positioned and textured:

Time to flesh out the warder’s tower. I’m going to keep calling it that, by the way; to my knowledge, it has no in-universe name. It’s simply designated as Building P on the technical drawings, and I’m not going to expect myself (much less you!) to remember that.

Anyway, since this model I’d previously started was based purely on the real-world Alnwick location, I did have to make some tweaks to match the VFX miniature built for the Potter films. (I split the difference in a few spots.)

I also had to decide what to do about the Hogwarts-style torches that flank the archway – they were temporarily installed at Alnwick for the shoot, but when they were similarly added to the miniature, they were moved inward and upward to adjacent walls closer to the archway. I went back and forth on this quite a bit before ultimately deciding to accept the location shoot as canon, not the miniature. I felt this choice was bolstered significantly by the fact that this part of the miniature was never actually seen in the films, whereas the full-sized torches are prominently visible in multiple scenes shot on location for both SS and COS. (I still think the other way would been a fully defensible choice too, though.)

Here we are with the torches added, the remainder of the structure built, and some of the remaining details incorporated:

I’m really noticing the stark architectural contrast between Durham and Alnwick. There are so many more funky angles in the Alnwick-derived areas of Hogwarts…they really stand out quite a bit compared to the rest of the school, where the footprint is dominated by right angles, octagons, and circles. This isn’t news to me, but the contrast is especially noticeable when you’ve just come off a long stretch of essentially modelling a cathedral. Alnwick Castle is a lot more haphazard and organic, and of course it was simply built for very different purposes. I like these areas of Hogwarts – and I don’t think that’s only due to nostalgia – but I can understand why Stuart Craig was eager to tidy up the castle’s profile in the later films.

Here’s a POV shot from over by the base of the bell towers with this side of the warder’s tower complete. This view would only be unobstructed in the first film because as I said, this is where the greenhouses went in.

On a COMPLETELY unrelated note, I’ve already begun laying the groundwork for the next structures I’m going to tackle. I don’t have anything to show yet, but I’ll give you a hint: there are 8.5 of them, and despite my longtime assumption that they were all the same size, they’re actually not.

Yup. Completely unrelated. Anyway, see ya next time!

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.

The Long Gallery & Starting the Bell Towers

Work on my 3D model of the Prisoner of Azkaban castle continues! The area that corresponds to Durham Cathedral’s north transept is now complete:

I shifted my way attention to the adjacent walls that correspond to the cathedral’s nave and north aisle, otherwise known at Hogwarts as the Long Gallery. I was surprised to notice that the windows and buttresses are not evenly spaced. In fact, the upper windows don’t even align with the lower windows. I fought this briefly, thinking I must be mistaken, but nope, I’m pretty positive none of this stuff lines up in the miniature – and not in ways that match the imperfections of Durham!

I wanted to match the miniature as closely as I could, so I started by adding placeholders for the bell towers at the other end of the Long Gallery to help me lock in my spacing:

The stand-ins are shorter than the talent, and their faces are kinda blank, but hey, what are you gonna do.

At this point I discovered that my entire Long Gallery area was about a foot too far east, so I took a few minutes to shift it over and swivel the viaduct accordingly (a whopping 0.25°). A foot’s not a lot – at 1:24 scale, that comes out to half an inch in the miniature – but it helps to line things up as closely as I can.

With that done, I blocked in the walls and roofs of the long gallery:

Then came the details, with all their subtly variable spacing. Here’s an orthographic view from the side – a perspective-less elevation view, in other words. All the misalignment is totally intentional, and it should be pretty accurate (although I made further tweaks after this render).

Of course, it’ll look better once the far side is enclosed as well; I’m not working on that courtyard side yet.

In the meantime, my next task was to create the 15-foot-wide octagonal tower on the roof of the Long Gallery. This was added in Chamber of Secrets; my guess is that it was a purely aesthetic decision, perhaps motivated by the fact that the establishing shot of the greenhouses shows that area more clearly than we had seen in the first film.

Pretty quick add, and it never changed in any of the later films. Just gotta make sure I exclude it from the eventual Sorcerer’s Stone version of the model!

Next up? The bell towers! While the central tower isn’t very similar to the one at Durham Cathedral, the bell towers have a lot more in common with their Durham counterparts, the North and South Galilee Towers. In fact, the basic impression of the original design in the first two films is that they’ve simply knocked a few of the pinnacles off and added a conical roof to each tower. (Closer inspection does reveal some subtle differences in the details, as with all the Durham areas.) In Prisoner of Azkaban, the conical roofs were replaced with taller belfries and octagonal spires that echo the redesigned central tower, but the lower sections still bear a striking resemblance to Durham Cathedral. They also get a lot more intricate than the central tower, which makes them a little intimidating. I decided to start with the bottom portion, which is all based off stuff I’ve already made:

Now for the hard stuff! Okay, it’s not exactly hard…it’s just…a lot.

Halfway there:

The openings are tricky. In some shots in the early films, you can very unambiguously see straight through from one side to another, but in some photos of the miniature from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, it looks like there are interior walls. After finding other photos that seem to show straight through in the Studio Tour as well, I decided to keep mine hollow, as you see above. Hopefully that’s still accurate to the later films.

Next time we’ll finish the bell towers, add the wall between them, and continue around this northern part of the castle!

Viaduct Entrance, Continued

I ended my last post on a positive note. Sadly, my enthusiasm was perhaps premature. As soon as I started adding windows to the viaduct entrance, I ran into the sorts of issues with dimensions and proportions that so often plague projects like this, at least when you don’t have complete technical drawings at your disposal. The top of window X is supposed to be even with the top of window Y, which is about a third as tall as window X, but if I move window X to be even with window Y, it’s no longer in the right place relative to feature Z…that sort of thing. Really frustrating.

Fortunately, I’m not as much of a perfectionist as I used to be, so I pressed onward, accepting the fact that close comparisons with the original Hogwarts miniature would still reveal small discrepancies. The overall dimensions are still very accurate – welllllllll beyond the accuracy needed for a casual viewer to be able to say, “Hey, that’s Hogwarts!” And thanks to the photogrammetry I’ve been able to pull from various videos of the castle, I shouldn’t end up with any errors that snowball into large-scale catastrophes. (Famous last words?)

The windows look funny without nothing but sky and water on the other side, but that will be resolved when I enclose the other sides of the building. For now, the south facade at least is complete.

I next turned my attention to the thinner towers directly behind the ones you see here. Like the towers in front, these had their spires completely revised in Order of the Phoenix, but I’m still working on the Prisoner of Azkaban version for now. There’s still a long way to go with the Durham area of the castle, but this is already starting to really change the look of the front of Hogwarts:

One of my favorite details on these less prominent towers looks like something out of the Winchester Mystery House: a door that opens from the battered base of the tower into midair, with no balcony or stairs or anything, a good couple of stories above the ground. Take a look toward the bottom of the tower:

No idea why they included this door – nor whether it’s also present on the identical tower on the other side, though the extremely minimal photographic coverage of that area seems to suggest that it’s not. (I also know the door disappeared in the digital DH/FB version of the castle.) In any case, my model omits the door on the other tower and attempts to include as much detail on the neighboring walls as can be divined from the available reference. Those constitute one of the most hidden areas of the castle, so if you miraculously find any overhead shots that peer into it, please comment!

The beginnings of the central tower are visible right below the camera. You can also see that I’m starting to get cautious with my symmetry. While the footprint of this part of the castle was indeed symmetrical in the original Sorcerer’s Stone design, changes to the adjacent areas in the third film necessitated shortening the area on the right that corresponds to Durham’s south transept. Below I’ve given us X-ray vision so we can get an impossible angle. Take a look at the walls on the right with the three windows – those are the ones that got shortened on the opposite side.

As we get to the transepts, the similarities between the Hogwarts miniature and the real-world Durham Cathedral become more and more evident. There are still discrepancies, though; I’m favoring the VFX miniature’s design in those areas, especially since this part of the actual cathedral isn’t even seen in the films.

I’ll round out today’s post with some untextured orthographic views of the entire Prisoner of Azkaban model as of this moment. Coming along!

P.S. If you haven’t subscribed to my new YouTube channel, I’d recommend it. I don’t have much content up there yet, mainly because the project is still very much a work in progress, but especially when we start getting into the final stages, I’d imagine I’ll be posting a lot of videos. I did recently post the raw visual effects shot of Hogwarts I created for the teaser for Les Fondateurs 2: La Quête de Gryffondor (The Founders 2: Gryffindor’s Quest).

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…

South Wing Odds ‘n’ Ends

As we’ve seen, POA featured some significant additions to the castle’s architecture, many of which were anchored by the new clock tower in the southwest corner. The last remaining piece of this section was the small gatehouse at the end of the wooden bridge. This came together easily; the only real question was how big to make the torch, since its size (relative to the building) differs significantly between the miniature and the full-sized set built at Glencoe. I ended up using the same scale as some of the castle’s other torches, which resulted in me kinda splitting the difference between the two sizes.

Believe it or not, that brings the POA additions to something of a complete state!

The south wing as a whole is still not complete, since I haven’t touched the quad interior due to scarcity of reference material. I also still need to add the walkway that connects the Chamber of Reception to the quad, but I’m holding off for the same reason.

Knowing this, I decided it was just about time to turn my attention to the castle’s north wing, much of which is derived from Durham Cathedral and Alnwick Castle. There were just a few odds ‘n’ ends to finish up first, like the fleur-de-lis pattern at the back of the Great Hall (bottom right):

Another miscellaneous item was the tree in the clock tower courtyard where Buckbeak’s executioner sits to sharpen his blade. It was fun creating its forking, branching paths by hand, following what we see in the film for the trunk and larger branches, then just going crazy with the smaller branches. I allowed Blender’s Skin modifier to bulk it all out into a basic three-dimensional form:

Whoops…I realized I’d forgotten to add the steps leading up from the courtyard to the wooden bridge. I added those, sculpted a bit more detail into the tree trunk, and used a particle system to add some leaves.

Next came ivy to help the courtyard feel a little more overgrown and wild:

I also spent some time grappling with Blender’s Mantaflow fluid simulation engine, trying to get convincing smoke to furl from the castle’s chimneys. It took the better part of a day for me to figure out that my baking errors stemmed from an apostrophe in the cache folder path (a folder descriptively named “Joe’s Stuff”). With that finally resolved, I was able to get some smoke in there:

After all the frustration, I really like how it turned out! I think that’s a nice note upon which to end the work on the south wing, at least till I can find more reference for the POA-era quad. Next we turn to the north wing, starting with the Durham section!

Completing the Wooden Bridge (POA Edition)

With the basic structure of the wooden bridge in place, I next set out to adjust the support beams below. The bridge spans a ravine and its cross beam patterns do vary. Paying close attention to their arrangement in the original miniature, I first modified the half closest to the castle:

Then it was just a matter of duplicating the structure to the far side and tweaking a spot where it’s not quite symmetrical:

This brings the bridge to a complete state…at least, without all the shaky imperfections that give the original its charm. Time to get those in there.

My weapon of choice was Blender’s Mesh Deform modifier, a nondestructive tool that allows you to manipulate one object’s shape and have it affect the shape of another. I created a much, much simpler version of the bridge – really just a 3D envelope to roughly surround it – and manually pushed different sections around to approximate the swaying structure seen in the films. Blender obligingly shifted the detailed model of the bridge to match.

Just for fun, here’s the simplified envelope visualized with a translucent material around the actual bridge model, prior to any distortion:

And when I warped that envelope (twice due to some annoying lost work), it made the detailed bridge underneath look this!

(This is after breaking apart the roof into some separate chunks with their own local coordinates so that the shingle texture would map correctly onto them.)

I’m feeling quite happy with this! It’ll look a lot better once I’ve added terrain, of course. And even just adding the gatehouse at the other end will help. I think that’ll be my next task.

Revealing the Bridge

Possibly the most noticeably new castle feature in Prisoner of Azkaban was the long, rickety wooden bridge leading from the new clock tower and courtyard to the new location of Hagrid’s hut and the Whomping Willow. (The bridge stuck around all the way through to Deathly Hallows, when it was enlarged to make its destruction more dramatic.)

As with so many things, it’s easier to build something like this in its original pristine state and then deform it appropriately. So I set out to create a perfectly straight version of the bridge with none of its characteristic undulations:

Not very recognizable yet. Adding the roof and a few more elements helps a lot:

That’s more like it!

As I began to add the trestle structures below, I threw in some textures as well:

This all came together pretty quickly, in part because everything you see above consists of a single 8-foot-long segment with an Array modifier that dynamically duplicates it 24 additional times. Then it was time to move the bridge into place as I continued to add details:

Thus far, I’d avoided all the wooden tracery that gives the bridge its ornate look. There are actually two designs used on different parts of the bridge, something I’d never noticed before. I recreated both:

Next steps will be to adjust the bottoms of the supports to match the ravine below, adjust the texturing on the roof, and ultimately bend and twist the segments of the bridge to give it its final wobbly look.