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Warner Brothers Studio Tour London -The Making of Harry Potter

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Warner Brothers Studio Tour London -The Making of Harry Potter

Doors to Hogwarts used in the Harry Potter films

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Harry Potter Behind the Scenes:

Harry Potter fans and anyone interested in a detailed look at what's really involved in the making of movie magic are in for a real treat with the 2012 opening of Warner Brothers Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter. It's a day trip from London that's really worth making.

For about ten years, the studios in Leavesden, 20 miles north of London, have been home to the Harry Potter industry, churning out the films, one after another, as a generation of actors and the children enthralled by them grew up together.Now, some of the films' most iconic sets, including The Great Hall,Dumbledore's Office, Hagrid's Hut, The Griffindor Common Room, and more, have been brought together with costumes, props and behind-the-scenes secrets, in two huge soundstages that visitors can wander through at their own pace.

Essentials:

What is the Harry Potter Tour:

The attraction, opened to the public on March 31, 2012, is a unique walking tour that allows visitors to see the artistry,craftsmanship and engineering that went into the making of the films. Real costumes, used in the films are dotted around the exhibition - ballgowns, Professors' robes and the school uniforms of Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Visitor's can press their noses against cases filled with jewel-like props, can use touch screens to explore Harry Potter's world or press buttons to make little monsters (like a baby Voldemort) breathe and squirm. After marveling at the sets, exhibits describe the creative processes involved between artists concepts to working sets.

What the Harry Potter Tour is Not:

The tour is not a theme park. There are no rides and no guide-led, fixed itinerary. Although children four and under are admitted free (See more about prices in FAQs for Visitors), children old enough to have seen the films and read the books will get the most out of the discoveries and revelations of this independent walking tour.

Highlights of the Warner Brothers Studio Harry Potter Tour:

Without a doubt, fans and non-fans alike will find their own favorite parts of this tour. These were some of ours:

  • Seeing how many of the special effects were accomplished by artists, engineers and animatronics experts, rather than through computer generated imagery.
  • Watching "magic" at work - a pot stirs itself in the Potions Classroom, frying pans wash themselves and a knife chops away in the homely set for the Weaseley's kitchen.
  • Donning a cloak and climbing aboard a broomstick in front of a green screen - then seeing yourself fly on the video monitor.
  • Getting up close to amazing props - the drinks table from the Yule Ball, the Chocolate Feast. At one point, while admiring some hand props in a glass cabinet, I found my nose three inches away from the Philospher's Stone.
  • Window shopping on Diagon Alley

How the Harry Potter Walking Tour Works:

Waiting visitors can admire Harry's cupboard under the stairs before entering the tour. Passing through the entrance, they gather in a sort of mustering area, surrounded by digital screens with posters of the Harry Potter movies from all over the world. Then, after a refreshingly brief talk:
  1. A short film, featuring the three young stars of the films, gives a hint about the secrets to be revealed and the thousands of people involved in making the films. The theater, by the way, has very comfortable leather seats. And if you haven't seen all the films - as I have not - this little film will tempt you.
  2. As the film ends, the screen sweeps up to reveal the doors of Hogwarts (like everything else in this attraction, they are the actual doors used in the film). The doors open to admit you to the Great Hall.
  3. A tour of the first soundstage, admiring sets and props, trying the touch screens and stopping for a bit of green screen acting of your own, takes about two hours.
  4. Then you are outdoors in a courtyard area where you can board the purple, triple decker Knight Bus, pose for pictures on Haggrid's motorcycle, sit in a flying car, look in the windows of 4 Privet Drive or admire Hogwart's bridge while sipping on a Butterbeer (very sweet but I liked it).
  5. Just when you think it must be all over, you plunge back into the second half of the experience in the second soundstage. Attractions there include the Creature Shop and the wonderful Diagon Alley with all its shop windows bursting with goods.
  6. The next exhibit highlights the work of the art department, with models, sketches, paintings that may sound dry in the telling but are wonderful to look at.
  7. And finally, visitors walk around a huge, 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle, used in the filming, that took 86 artists and crew members several months to make.

Throughout the exhibit, "paintings" turn into digital screens with short explanatory films. In the art department, as the art director talks, books on a drafting table around him come to life with illustrations and turning pages.

Other Facilities:

As you might expect, there's a shop and they have gone to town on all the doodads that are integral parts of the film - magic wands, costumes, items of jewelry, crystal balls. Plan on setting a limit for everyone or you could be seriously out of pocket.

Refreshment facilities include:

  • A Butterbeer bar, with snacks and sandwiches in the courtyard, between the two soundstages
  • A moderately priced cafe with sandwiches, cold and hot meals.
  • A Starbucks

The Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden are surrounded by industrial parks, suburban developments and open country, so if you have hungry children with you, this is really the only food for miles around.

And is it Worth the Money?:

There's no question that this can be an expensive day out for a family. The price for children from 5 to 15 is £21, for adults £28, and a family ticket for two adults and two children (or one adult and three children) is £83 (more about costs in Essential FAQs). But, despite the tempting shop, there are fewer opportunities to open your wallet than you might expect.

Warner Brothers estimates it should take about three hours to tour the site. On the preview day I visited with a friend (neither of us, by the way, avid Harry Potter fans), we spent about five hours there and we probably could have spent considerably more time. It's a full day and it will leave the Harry Potter fans in your tribe with more to talk about than after comparably priced visits to famous theme parks and long lasting family memories to boot. A very special and expensive outing, perhaps, but worth every penny, I think.

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