The hottest new attraction in the United Kingdom these days is not a royal palace or some rocks in a field.
It’s the studio in Leavesden where Warner Bros. spent 10 years making the Harry Potter movies.
A converted factory that was once used to make planes in World War II, Leavesden is still a working studio. But a big portion of it has been transformed into a gigantic show-and-tell Harry Potter sound stage exhibit.
About 5,000 people a day make the trek to Leavesden, which is a half-hour northwest of London. They pay about $30 apiece to get in.
That means that Warner is coining ~$50 million a year from Harry Potter studio tours from ticket prices alone.
(And you’re not going to leave with just a ticket–believe me.)
My family is way into Harry Potter, and we were in London last week. So, of course, we went.
It was awesome.
The tour starts with a shuttle bus that picks you up at the Watford Junction train station. The one that picked us up came roaring in so fast it almost ran over my daughter. (Phew!)
Every train that comes to Watford is full of Harry Potter fans. They come from everywhere--even New Zealand. Some have scars painted on their foreheads and round glasses on their heads.
Warner Bros takes the opportunity to show you some upcoming movie trailers on the bus, of course. But in 20 minutes, you're there.
The Leavesden Studios are massive. They contain about 500,000 square feet of inside space, along with a 100-acre lot in the back.
You can't just show up, of course--you have to buy your tickets online, a couple of weeks in advance. You're given a particular time.
The studio lobby has a Starbucks. And WiFi. And, of course, a gift shop. And massive movie-star pictures of your favourite Harry Potter people.
All of Harry Potter's stuff is still in there, including one of the pairs of glasses he wore in the film. (There were hundreds, apparently.)
Eventually, they open the doors, and you're herded into an introductory room, where you see videos and posters about the global impact of the Harry Potter franchise. (Suffice it to say, the world went bonkers about it.)
Then it's a short film welcome from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione). And then the screen goes up, and....
It's the real Great Hall--the one they filmed all those dining scenes in. It was dissassembled and moved from a different part of the lot, but it's the same set.
It seems smaller than the one in the movie. And two of the tables are missing (to make room for you).
The magic ceiling, by the way, is just a rack of stage lights. All the weather and floating candles and stars that you see in the movies were CGI (computer generated images).
The stone floor in the Great Hall is actually made of stone. The set designers knew the floor would get a lot of use. So they wanted it to hold up.
Even when you're close to it, this fake stone looks very real. You have to tap it with your knuckle to be sure.
At the end of the Great Hall are costumes and wigs worn by some of the story's most famous characters. Now they're worn by mannequins. There's Hagrid, for example.
After 15 minutes in the Great Hall, they're going shoo you out. Don't resist. There's plenty of cool stuff to come.
And horcruxes! (The magic objects that contain the pieces of Voldemort's soul. If memory serves, they're all here--except for the last one.)
This sound stage also contains more sets. They're built with the same external structure as the Great Hall.
The actors rode brooms that were manipulated from below by these machines--sort of like mechanical bulls. The actors hung on while fans blow wind. Then the background was added later.
When you leave the first sound stage, you head to the lot outside, where you find a lot of the outdoor props in the movie. The flying car, for example. The Knight bus. And the house on Privet Drive!
After Diagon Alley, it's on to an architectural studio, where you see the blueprints and models for many of the structures in the film. The drawings are extraordinarily detailed (these are real structures, after all.) Here's the Burrow.
To create the outside shots of the school, the cameras whizzed around as though they were flying on helicopters.
A warning to parents: If you have kids in tow, you're going to be buying something. And if you're not careful, it's going to get expensive fast.
The wands are particularly popular. There's a different one for each character--a full-size facsimile of the ones in the movies.
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