This unique attraction is designed as a self-guided walking tour through exhibits of costumes, animatronics, special effects, props, and actual sets—including the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, and Diagon Alley—that were created for the Harry Potter films.
The attraction designers, LA-based Thinkwell Group, worked with Warner Bros. to showcase the production materials from these beloved films in a compelling experience. Thinkwell CCO and executive creative director Craig Hanna explains, "The original project thesis from start to finish remained: There was a lot of magic on the screen, but the real magic happened behind the camera. This is a place where you really see how the movies were made—the real Harry Potter. If it couldn’t be physically seen through the camera, you wouldn’t see it here."
The film’s executive producer David Heyman and production designer Stuart Craig also worked on the attraction. "We really were just the custodians of the filmmakers’ work; we organized it into a guest attraction," says Hanna. "It’s all their art and passion that makes everything in this attraction look so great. As much as you see on film, you don’t appreciate it or see the richness of detail that you see in person."
Upon arriving at Leavesden during production of the sixth film, the Thinkwell team found that the filmmakers, over the years of production, had produced and saved all things Potter in almost 200 shipping containers and an enormous flight shed. "It was a treasure trove for us," comments Hanna, "but it also made this one of the most difficult attractions to design because of the organic nature of the endless discoveries we made over four years. The final selections came down to the most beloved, iconic sets and the reality of the space we actually had."
One of the most surprising discoveries was the 1/24th scale Hogwarts Castle model used for filming shots of the school that audiences had probably thought were CGI. "Many people with the movie didn’t even know the model existed," says Thinkwell producer/project director Cynthia Blackstone. "It is meticulously made and was in 19 major pieces with additional spires on top. You don’t even know how to describe it when you first see it; it’s stunning."
Thinkwell designed a show-stopping moment when guests initially see the intricate 70'x70'x26' model. "We really wanted people to come into a vista point, high over that model, and then be able to walk down a ramp that wraps all the way around it so guests get to see the detail on all sides," says Hanna. "We start the ramp in Diagon Alley and then continue it through the production design artwork presented in a contemporary gallery style, finally ending up in the model room."
Kevin Burke of Polaris Studio consulted on the show/facility design. "Laying out the 1:20 shallow ramp system and incorporating it through Diagon Alley and the model room was challenging but well worth the effort," he says. "As guests come around the turn to the first view of the Hogwarts model, it is really such a ‘wow’ moment. From the time guests enter Diagon Alley, which we widened for guest flow, until the time they enter the overlook in the model room, they have risen 10'; however, they have traversed 260' with the 1:20 rise and the landings. It was really a team effort to accomplish. We literally had to build our way out of the model room."
Blackstone recalls the complex plan, noting the team had to wrap the model and move it from Shepperton to Leavesden. "Then we cut 3' off to lower the base, rewrapped it, and moved it a second time to the flight shed," she says. "We built three walls of the room, built the start of the ramp, put up the pipe grid and an overhead maintenance basket crane, moved the wrapped model into position in this active construction site, completed the ramp, closed the fourth building wall, and then finally, holding our breath, unwrapped the model, which was in perfect condition. It took seven-months to finish that sequence, and that model is never again moving."
Building the Hogwarts model into the room meant no second thoughts on the layout. "The orientation was an important consideration," Burke adds. "It’s really cool that guests see it from 360°, but two views stand out as the must-haves. The first is when guests come out on that top gallery and get an overview of the castle. The second great view, and Stuart Craig’s favorite, is when you get down to the bottom of the model, and you are looking back up at Hogwarts. It is the view you remember from the films.