So, it was not without some measure of child-like excitement that we flipped through the recently released shots of the soon-to-open Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. There’s just something about J.K. Rowling’s creation—the books, the movies, the toy wands—that turns even skeptical muggle adults into wide-eyed kiddies. Certainly, the pictures of the elaborate sets and ride that will soon thrill children of all ages look amazing—we actually had to run back and forth between several blogs to ensure that the shots of Hogwart’s castle weren’t really just behind-the-scenes stills from the movies. But no, it seems the production team at Universal has created a beautiful reproduction of the movie’s famous settings so accurate, so magical that even Merlin might be impressed. But, honestly, we’re not the sort to stand in line at some humid theme park, so we’ve whipped up an alternative Hogwarts vacation&mdash:a short tour of the real-life locations featured in the Harry Potter films.
More than anything else, the Potter films live and die by their beautifully rendered environments which are themselves a careful patchwork of exquisite sets built at England’s Leavesden Studios, Pinewood Studios (home to the Bond films), and Shepperton Studios, computer-generated imagery, and series of real-life, brick-and-mortar locations. Certainly, shots of London and other less-glamorous corners of England have made it into scenes where our intrepid Harry mixes with the “muggle” world. Both King’s Cross Station, the site of the famous track 9½ represented itself on film, but the production team also used St. Pancreas Station for shooting as well. From there, the films step into more magical territories as the Hogwarts’ Express bounds north, steaming across the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West Highland Railway Line near Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland.
Once arriving in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts School, an educated viewer could be forgiven for thinking that the young students are angling for their graduate degrees at Oxford University. Stairways, anterooms, chambers and all manner of limestone-graced interiors and exteriors where shot among the ancient colleges of the university town. New College, Christ Church, The Divinity School, The Bodleian Library, and other spots along the city’s cobblestone streets are featured players in all of the early films. If ever there was one very approachable destination for Potter fans to visit, Oxford and its weathered steeples and ornate chapels is it.
In close focus and interiors, Oxford is a suitable stand in for Hogwarts. But as the characters move beyond their classrooms and dorms, a more remote landscape is required. Approaching shots of Hogwarts have been captured at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland before undergoing CGI treatment to add more spires wings to the massive fortress. The famous hill upon which Hagrid’s little hut rests is actually back in Scotland, amid the lush, rocky vistas of Glen Coe. Gloucester Cathedral back in England has also served as the grounds of the wizarding school just as the suitably named Black Park in Buckinghamshire and nearby Burnham Beeches serve as the “Dark Forest” when Glen Coe or a sound stage aren’t on the shooting schedule. Finally, the panoramas that were used to construct the mad, digitally created quidditch sequences were taken in Glen Nevis, not far from the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
In truth, the production teams behind the Potter films have sourced even more of England, Scotland and Wales to construct their world of witchcraft and wizardry, but the choice locations above should prove enough to any Harry fan who wants a bit more than what the theme-park warlocks down in Orlando can offer.
Above: Look at a set piece from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme-park ride in Universal Studios Orlando.
Middle (clockwise from upper left): King’s Cross Station, Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College in Oxford, the cloisters of New College in Oxford.
Bottom (clockwise from upper left): Staircase to The Dining Hall of Christ Church College in Oxford, Glen Coe, Alnwick Castle, Burnham Beeches.
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