HARRY POTTER SECRETS REVEALED: I Just Took The Amazing Studio Tour...

Harry Potter Hogwarts room

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.

But now they're all about Harry Potter.

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.

That entitles you to wait in the line.

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.

When your time comes, you wait in another line.

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....

Welcome to Hogwarts!

They open the door, and your group stampedes into the Great Hall.

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).

But all of the detail is there.

Place settings...

...and gargoyles.

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.

The stone walls, however--which look very real--are painted plaster.

Take a look behind them (after you leave the Great Hall), and this is what you see.

The plaster looks as though it was sprayed onto wooden supports.

Even when you're close to it, this fake stone looks very real. You have to tap it with your knuckle to be sure.

The wood paneling on the walls, meanwhile, is real.

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.

And Snape. And Dumbledore.

And Professor Flitwick.

And Mad Eye Moody and Professor Trelawney.

After 15 minutes in the Great Hall, they're going shoo you out. Don't resist. There's plenty of cool stuff to come.

Wigs. That's Arthur Weasly's in the middle on top.

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.

From a distance, they look like this.

Then you approach and begin to see the sets they contain.

This one's the Gryffindor boys dormitory, where Harry and Ron sleep.

Across the way is the potions classroom.

Complete with cauldrons...

...Professore Slughorn...

...and, of course, Professor Snape.

A few steps away is another set.

It's Dumbledore's office!

And there's Dumbledore, standing next to his desk.

The Gryffindor common room looks as comfortable as it does in the movies.

There's a chandelier...

...highly detailed wallpaper...

And that awesome fireplace.

A little further in, you find Hagrid's hut.

With Hagrid inside.

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!

Then it's back inside to see how they made all those magical creatures.

There were dozens of goblins in the films, for example--and each one was different.

Here's Griphook, for example. Looking as squirrely as usual.

One of the mermaids.

And Dobby! (In the movies, though, he was actually computer generated.)

Many of the creatures were animatronic--with machinery inside.

This is one of the squirming mandrakes, for example.

In the next room, the giant spider Aragog, a dementor, and the basilisk head hang menacingly,

And then it's on to Diagon Alley.

It's all there. And, like the Great Hall, it seems smaller than in the movie.

The cauldron shop...

...a fuschia coloured shop (Weasly's Wizard Wheezes? Can't remember.)


(It looks a lot more real when you crop out the green screen.)

Madame Malkin's (robes)

And, of course, Olivander's wand shop.

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.

Here's an architectural model of Hogwarts.

And then, last but not least, it's on to the real thing...

...the complete shooting model of Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry.

It's 1:24 scale.

It fills a huge whole room.

The grounds are in the model, too. Heath. Trees. Rocks.

To create the outside shots of the school, the cameras whizzed around as though they were flying on helicopters.

And zoomed in on shots through trees.

The detail, as ever, is extraordinary.

And it's startling how a small change in lighting changes the feel of the place.

The castle is definitely one of the highlights of the tour.

The tour ends in a wand room.

There are thousands of wands--one for every one of the thousands of people who worked on the films.

The creator of the whole thing, of course, J.K. Rowling, has her own wand.

And then, cleverly, the only way out is through the gift shop.

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.

If you're lucky, you'll only leave with a couple...

So that's the Harry Potter studio tour. Now check out the crisis at Harrods...

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