Go Behind the Scenes of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter


Entertainment Weekly goes behind the scenes at a new Harry Potter theme park opening soon at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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Harry Potter really is going through a renaissance, isn’t it? There’s a sequel coming to the stage, a prequel coming to the big screen, and a new theme park opening out in Hollywood California. Entertainment Weekly has the scoop on that last one, which will be opened to the public on April 7.

“It’s as close as you ever could be to a film in a theme park,” said Alan Gilmore, the supervising art director for the park and someone who worked on the films.

"“Turning film sets into real buildings is really quite an amazing journey. A film set is one-sided, and you can hide everything behind a screen, but these are real buildings that actually have to function yet look like a movie set or like what people read in the books. The challenge here is to hide all the modern details and make you feel like you’ve gone back in time in that J.K. Rowling time period.”"

The park will be choc-a-block with attractions. There will be props from the movies on display (Hagrid’s motorcycle, dresses from the Yule Ball), rides (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride through Hogwarts aided by 3D technology, and Flight of the Hippogriff, an outdoor roller coaster), and merch. So much merch. Here’s how Mark Woodbury, who oversees the crews at Universal Creative, puts it:

"The beauty of what Jo Rowling created was that the kids actually went shopping, to get their school supplies and things like that. The fiction was ripe with opportunity to expore that, and our merchandise folks developed over a thousand SKUs of products that the fans are just crazy about."

You could call this the dark side of park. As delightful as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe is, a big part of the reason it’s so appealing to theme park creators is because it presents an abundance of merchandising opportunities, from robes to broomsticks to butterbeer to chocolate frogs. There’ll be a Hunger Games ride opening at Motiongate Dubai before long, but what merchandise is going to be sold in the gift shop? Tattered rags and bows? Harry Potter is where the money’s at.

That’s why Universal is making such a big deal out of the park. “We saw in 2010 how it impacted our Orlando park [and now] we have a new center of gravity,” says Universal Studios Hollywood president Larry Kurzweil. “We’ve reimagined 75 percent of this entire movie studio property, and Harry Potter is the epicenter of that.”

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At least everything at the park is vetted by J.K. Rowling, or someone from her team. “Any time you’re bringing your interpretation of somebody else’s creation back to them and seeing if you got it right, there’s a lot of excitement with that,” said Woodbury. “But when you actually let them taste the butterbeer that they’ve never actually tasted, you’re getting to actually give them a chance to taste their own creation, if you will.” Let’s hope the park lives up to Rowling’s standards.