Harry Potter and the Studio Tour of Secrets

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The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros Studios Tour entrance by Karen Roe

A few weeks ago I visited the Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros studio tour, just outside London. On the tour you get to see some of the sets, props, costumes and models from the 8 Harry Potter films and learn the secrets behind how they brought the magical Harry Potter universe to life. I’d certainly recommend a visit if you’re a Harry Potter fan, but even if you don’t know your Hagrid from your Hogwarts, it’s a fascinating glimpse behind the cinematic curtain.

At the end of tour, you visit the wand room featuring a box for each person involved in the films (sadly I don’t think each box actually contains a wand). Whilst there are boxes for the many actors involved, these are dwarfed by all the people that worked behind the scenes. The make-up artists, the set builders, the special effects artists, the runners, the continuity supervisors (a particular important but under-appreciated role). Aside from having worked on one of the Harry Potter films another thing that many of the people listed on the over 4,000 boxes have in common is that they are either a designer, or an artist. There are set designers, prop designers, production designers, graphic designers, costume designers, concept artists, make-up artists, sculptors, backdrop artists, storyboard artists, the list goes on.

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Each person that worked on one of the Harry Potter films has a box in the wand room. You might be able to spot a few famous names in the photo.

I’m always fascinated to see how other disciplines go about designing and creating things. There is always so much to learn from disciplines such as film making, architecture and industrial design that have been around for much longer than UX / digital design / product design (for a start they have a common name for their industry).

Going around the tour, and suffering from the curse of the designer (I must once again apologise to my family who were perplexed by my over interest in parts of the tour that they found rather boring), one thing in particular struck me. Pretty much all of the thousands and thousands of things that were created for the Harry Potter films, from the sets, to the costumes, the props, the models, the animatronic monsters and even the film scenes, all have a common starting point: The humble sketch.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the following examples.

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Concept sketch of Hogwarts castle by Stuart Craig
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Concept sketches for character wands
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Concept sketches for Ron and Hermione Winter Ball costumes from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
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Character concept sketches by Rob Bliss
Special effects sketches (see left of photo) for Gringotts Bank goblins
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Storyboard sketches by Jim Cornish for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The power of the sketch

So why is the humble sketch the acorn from which so much of the Harry Potter universe was grown? It’s not because everyone involved in the film industry is a ‘creative’ (I hate that term, it’s so exclusive). It’s not because to work in the film industry you have to be an amazing artist. It’s not even because all great ideas start with a sketch (although many do).

The reason so many sketches feature on the tour is because the humble sketch is the best way to communicate an idea, and to get early feedback. Feedback is the fuel that feeds creativity and sketches are the best mechanism out there for getting feedback at the earliest possible opportunity. Like Professor Dumbledore using a Pensieve to pluck out his memories (a reference that only Harry Potter nerds will get!) sketches allow an idea to be plucked out of someone’s head and to be shared with the wider world. They provide a shared point of reference and a starting point for critique and discussion.

But hang on, all those sketches are amazing. What if like me your artistic skills are a bit more rudimentary? Fear not, because the power of the humble sketch lies in what it communicates, not its quality, or artistic merit. Take a look at the sketch below.

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Sketched map of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by JK Rowling

I’m sure that even with your rudimentary sketching skills you’d be able to create something like the above map of Hogwarts. This map was created by none other than JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and creator of the Harry Potter universe. The map communicates her original concept for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It features locations you’ll no doubt recognise from the films, such as the Forbidden Forest, Whomping Willow and Quidditch stadium. JK Rowling is an author, and as such words are her usual medium for communicating ideas. However, instead of using words she used the power of the humble sketch to help bring Hogwarts to life and to have a shared point of reference for discussion. I’d recommend that you do likewise. Always start with a humble sketch and get feedback at the earliest possible opportunity. Don’t worry if your sketch isn’t very good, that’s not the point. You’re not creating a beautiful piece of art, but a quick way to communicate your ideas. Oh, and if are a Harry Potter fan, or even just someone who would like an insight into the magic that goes on behind the screen, in order to create the magic on the screen, go visit the Warner Bros studio tour. It’s well worth it, and a fitting legacy to the amazing work that went into the films.

If you like this article then please recommend and share it. You can find lots more articles like this on my blog: UX for the Masses

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Originally published at http://www.uxforthemasses.com on January 21, 2020.

Former techy turned UX Jedi. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.

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