Ahead of next week’s Oscars, Vanity Fair has been publishing a series of articles examining the ‘most visually enticing’ nominees. This week they looked at Stuart Craig’s fantastic work with the production design for the Harry Potter series, and spoke to him about the Hogwarts exterior, the Room of Requirement, Gringotts, Diagon Alley, the Boathouse for Snape’s death and more. You can read some excerpts below or read the whole thing at this link.
“In the early days, every time you saw the exterior of Hogwarts, it was a big miniature, a physical miniature,” Craig says. “In the final film, for the battle, our first miniature was scanned and that became the basis of a new digital model. It was retextured in fantastic detail so that the camera could get into it much, much closer.”
“The consequence of filming real locations was that we were obliged to incorporate the locations into the model of Hogwarts. Often real places are disappointing. They’re not of your choosing. So, the skyline of Hogwarts was not as I would have wished in the early films, and I really did care about that—I was struggling with that,” he says. “As time went on and the books required a new space that we’d never seen before, like the Astronomy Tower that Dumbledore dies from, then I would grab that opportunity with both hands to change and improve the skyline of Hogwarts. I felt happy about it in the end, and most happy about it in its ruined state, actually.”
Stuart says sets sometimes need to be more ‘theatrical, operatic’ than the descriptions in the book. Talking about the only major location change, Snape’s death in the boathouse:
“We did ask Jo Rowling if we might [change] that. She absolutely agreed that we could,” he says. Craig made the boathouse of “90 percent glass, and the reason for that was that it seemed magical that Hogwarts was on fire above it—or big sections of it—and there was a sense of the flame from the fire above being reflected in the glass, also reflected in the water, which in turn reflected in the glass.” The team wanted to give Rickman “a suitable place to die. Alan appreciated it, actually, and said so very kindly afterwards,” Craig says.
On ‘exaggeration’ for the Room of Requirement:
“The fact that they were looking for a tiara—this tiny little jewel of an object—in something so massive and complicated just made the task all the more impossible.” And to create that effect, Craig relied on good old-fashioned elbow grease: “We [modeled] it first with little blocks of Styrofoam and composed this kind of mountainscape, and then we made another model with dolls’ furniture, and then finally replicated it full size.” To prepare for the scene, fellow Oscar nominee and set decorator Stephenie McMillan had been buying furniture for months upon months.
About the Gringotts set:
For Gringotts Wizarding Bank, “everything conspired to make the goblins look very small, and to make the bank look—as banks do—very dignified and solid and important,” Craig says. That meant lots of imposing pillars, which actually are “just paper”—as was the marble floor. “We had quite a considerable marble-making factory,” he says, laughing. As for the chandeliers, he says, “they were 16 feet from top to bottom. We made the bottom half physically and then the top half was put in as a C.G. addition. So it wasn’t just whole sets that got extended; it was individual things, like chandeliers, that got extended by visual effects.”
Finally, Craig mentions a change made to the Diagon Alley set to improve it for visitors on the WB Studio Tour, opening next month:
Ironically, in the aftermath of the films, some of the sets that were rendered in C.G.I. have had to be physically re-created. For instance, for the Warner Bros. studio tour in London, Craig says, “Diagon Alley had a green screen at both ends in the later films. On the studio tour, to see Diagon Alley with a green screen at the end is pretty disappointing, and so we have painted a backing in forced perspective, so that at least looking one way down the street, the illusion is complete.”