My Visit to Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: “The Making of Harry Potter”


This is what the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: “The Making of Harry Potter” was like for any of you curious muggles out there.

"“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” – J.K. Rowling"

The Leavesden Aerodrome, a local airfield and factory used to produce fighter jets for Great Britain’s Ministry of Defence, was transformed into a film studio in 1994. Six years later, Warner Brothers made Leavesden the home of a different Ministry and transformed the studio into something magical: the film set for what would become one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time.

After a decade of filming the Harry Potter movies in this studio came to an end, Warner Bros. decided to leave the sets, props, and costumes in tact and open its doors to the public.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit Warner Brothers Studio Tour London and roam around the real sets used to film the movies.

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After walking (or skipping with excitement) through the doors, we were greeted by a very spacious lobby filled with people of all ages. The high walls of the lobby were decorated with portraits of the main characters and a few “floating” props, including the Weasley’s flying car. When I looked to my right, I saw one of the most exciting sights to be seen – the Studio Shop – full of Harry Potter merchandise and collectible items (more on this later).

After my husband managed to redirect me away from the Studio Shop, we took our place in line (or the queue as they call it in England).

"“I’d never had an idea that gave me such a physical response… It was that incredibly elated feeling you get when you’ve just met someone with whom you might eventually fall in love.” – J.K. Rowling on the initial idea for Harry Potter"

While on line, we were able to have a look at Harry’s cupboard under the stairs, just as it was in the films.

The line finally began moving and we were ushered into a large dark room, where a very interesting video from the producers of Harry Potter began playing. The production company was saying how one day an employee was sifting through books on the bottom shelf (they had a bookshelf filled with newly published and popular books that they would check out to see if it would make a good movie) and picked up Harry Potter. The employee went home and stayed up all night reading the book. She then told management about how great the book was and urged her manager to read it. The rest is history!

"“It felt as though I was carving a book out of this mess of notes. And that’s in effect what I did. It was a question of condensing, and editing, and sculpting a book out of this mass of stuff I had on Harry.” – J.K. Rowling on turning her idea into a book"

It’s astonishing to think Harry Potter was once just a book at the bottom of a shelf that no one really knew about and now, wherever you go, however old you are, and regardless of your occupation, you know about Harry Potter. But anyway…

After this brief intro, we were ushered into an IMAX type theater where a fantastic short film, about ten minutes long, was shown on screen. The film included exclusive interviews with the cast, directors, producers, film crew and others welcoming you to the tour and telling you about some of their favorite moments on set.

Once the video was over, the staff told us they would soon be letting us into the tour (which is self guided) and that we could look around as long as we wanted, the average time being about three hours to get through everything, but some people have stayed for 11(!) hours and others only one. We then all gathered towards the front of the theater where the screen parted to the sides, revealing beautiful, giant, golden doors. The doors opened and we entered…

the GREAT HALL! Now although this was very exciting, I can’t say this was as magical as I hoped it would be. This was mainly because it is physically impossible for the Great Hall to be as great in real life without the magical enhancements aka special effects.

The Great Hall featured character mannequins with some of the real costumes, two of the long house tables, and the House Points counters.

"“Thousands of costumes were created throughout all eight films, including hundreds of Hogwarts school robes (Daniel Radcliffe’s very first set is here at the Studio Tour), Hermione’s beautiful Yule Ball gown and several spooky ghost costumes.” – Warner Brothers"

We spent a few minutes admiring this and then entered the next area of the tour.

In front of us now were many of the props and decorations from the Yule Ball. Very much to my excitement, there was also The Mirror of Erised. When I looked into it, I saw myself exactly how I was with a giant grin on my face. I guess this meant my life’s greatest desire was fulfilled!

As we continued on, I got very big “museum” vibes, but in a great way. This tour is not only for kids and super fans, but also for adults who enjoy films and the huge efforts that go into making a major blockbuster.

Next, we were able to stop and have a look at some of the most memorable sets, including:

The Gryffindor common room and boys’ dormitory

Dumbledore’s office, which included the memory cabinet, the headmaster’s telescope and other astronomical devices

Snape’s potion classroom

Hagrid’s Hut, which – according to my official guidebook purchased from the tour – was just one of two versions used of this set. Filmmakers used a larger scale set to make “characters of ‘regular’ size seem small in comparison to the surroundings” and a smaller scale set “to make Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) seem large.”

The Burrow *cue warm fuzzy feeling*

Also on display around these sets were many of the props used in the films, including the horcuxes. According the the guidebook, “the Harry Potter Prop Department had filled five giant warehouses with thousands of items… including 5,000 pieces of furniture, 12,000 handmade books and 40,000 Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products and packages” by the end of filming on the last film.

Sets and equipment used for special film effects were also on display, including the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, the door to the Gringott’s Vault, Hagrid’s motorbike, and the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.

As we walked around the corner, we saw two dueling muggles in a small roped-off area where you could wait and be given a wand duelling lesson by a member of staff. Needless to say, this was very entertaining to watch.

Right beyond this was the green screen room where we were able to be magically put into the Potterverse. If you take the tour, don’t let the lines for this put you off. Not only do the lines move quickly, but it was definitely worth it.

We were first filmed in front of green screen to make it look like we were flying the Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia, just like Harry and Ron in The Chamber of Secrets

…and then we were given robes and were filmed riding our broomsticks through London, dodging muggles and muggle transport, just like in The Order of the Phoenix.

After this we continued through the tour, stopping by the toad’s… I mean Dolores Umbridge’s office that was full of lots of cat pictures and lots of pink. Thankfully she wasn’t in…

There was also the Ministry of Magic, “Magic is Might” statue and all…

…and Malfoy Manor’s dining room from The Deathly Hallows with poor Charity Burbage.

All aboard! Next stop: Hogwarts Express.

Here, we were able to take pictures at platform 9 ¾ and board the Hogwarts Express. On board, each carriage was decorated for each film with Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s belongings strewn across the seats.

We couldn’t take pictures in the actual carriages on board because there was not enough space, but instead we were able to take pictures in the interior carriages that were actually used for filming.

If you look closely you can see the chocolate frog on the outside of the window.

After our journey on the Hogwarts Express came to an end, we continued through the studio, passing a display case with amazing examples of some of the graphics used for the films, including schoolbooks, Maurauder’s Maps, Quidditch programs, and copies of the Daily Prophet and The Quibbler.

Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima were the head graphic designers.

After admiring the graphics, we made our way to the cafeteria and treated ourselves to a delicious cup of butterbeer!

I genuinely LOVED butterbeer and think it would sell like crazy if it was sold in stores. It tasted a bit like cream soda, but not as fizzy and with a bit of toffee flavoring. The cream on top is a weird texture, more similar to cool whip than whipped cream, but was nonetheless delicious.

In the cafeteria, you could also buy a limited selection of food; however I was a bit disappointed there was not an actual restaurant. I think WB really missed a beat here. There are hundreds of people visiting the tour daily and I’m sure people would love to sit down after walking around for a few hours in the ultimate Harry Potter restaurant. I’m thinking something like the Rainforest Cafe, but Potterverse-themed obviously.

After we finished our butterbeer, we headed outside to the backlot.

Here you could see The Knight Bus and Number Four, Privet drive…

…as well as the Potter’s Cottage.

On the backlot, you could also see part of the Hogwarts bridge. According to the guidebook, “only one section of the bridge was ever built; the Visual Effects Department created the remaining sections using computer generated effects.”

Next stop: Creature Effects.

"“The Harry potter films called for hundreds of creatures and intricate prosthetics – from the Basilisk and Buckbeak to Lord Voldemort’s snake-like face – all built by Creature Effects.” -Warner Bros. “The Making of Harry Potter” official guidebook"

Here we learned about the efforts that went into bringing creatures like Dobby, Grawp, Aragog, Buckbeak, Fawkes, mandrakes, goblins, and others to life, in addition to characters like Voldemort, Greyback, and Hagrid.

There was even a video with actor Warwick Davis (Griphook and Flitwick) explaining how the makeup department turned him into a goblin.

We were then transported to Diagon Alley!

This was so exciting but, like the Great Hall, a tad disappointing. It was amazing to see the set, but I could only imagine how cool it would be if the stores were full of goods and actors making you feel like you were actually there. It would have been so great to take a look around Flourish & Blotts or step inside Ollivander’s.

After exiting Diagon Alley, we entered a hall full of some of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen (seriously).

On the walls hung beautiful paintings and drawings by various concept artists that were created before filming began.

After walking through the halls of artwork, the most impressive piece was just beyond – Hogwarts castle – which seemed to be the size of an actual house.

This model was used in the filming for the landscape shots of the castle and was perfectly hand-sculpted to scale by a team of 86 artists and crewmembers.

"“The Art Department, led by Production Designer Stuart Craig, designed all of the sets and props seen through the Harry Potter film series in minute detail, including the breathtaking 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts castle which was used for exterior shots of the magical school.”- Warner Brothers"

My favorite picture is of this angle with the bridge that eventually gets blown up by Seamus and Neville in The Deathly Hallows.

Even though Ollivander wasn’t on hand in Diagon Alley, when you turned the next corner there was a wand shop with friendly staff to help you. In fact, every characters’ wand was on display. It was pretty impressive.

The tour ended at my favorite stop – the Studio Shop! Books, films, jewelry, apparel and merchandise for whatever house you belong to lined the shelves and racks. There was also plenty of Potterverse candy….

We ended the tour by buying chocolate frogs, jelly worms, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

I also purchased an official tour guidebook, a Hogwarts postcard, and an official hardcover “The Making of Harry Potter” stamped copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I would highly recommend this tour to not only Harry Potter fans, but also to any film fans in general, especially adults. It was most similar to a museum, which in a way was great because obviously there should be an official Harry Potter museum. Actually, I think we should contact the Smithsonian to make this happen. Start a petition! In the meantime, get over  to London and take the tour. I can’t wait to visit again.

Have you been? Let us know in the comments.

Next: Harry Potter Movies Stars Tweet Support of Cursed Child Casting

Images via Warner Bros Studios