9 ¾ Things Even Muggles Will Love About the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It would take real magic to make it snow in Los Angeles. For more behind the-scenes photos of the theme park, visit our Wizarding World of Harry Potter slideshow.
It would take real magic to make it snow in Los Angeles. For more behind the-scenes photos of the theme park, visit our Wizarding World of Harry Potter slideshow.

So, you're a Harry Potter fan.

You've read the books; you've seen the movies. You've shared every moment of Hogwarts hijinks. You've got strong opinions about which house you'd be in. (I aspire to be a Gryffindor, but let's be real: I'd probably be a Ravenclaw.) You know the correct pronunciations of all the best spells ("levi-OH-sa," not "levio-SAH"). You follow J.K. Rowling on Twitter. You've been to Whimsic Alley. You add the letter U into words it has no business touching in North America. You've got a favourite (see!) quidditch team (the Holyhead Harpies), a favorite fictional food (Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans), a favorite mythical beast (blast-ended skrewt). Sometimes, when you're not even thinking about Harry and Hermione and company, the movie's theme song creeps into your head, during your elevator ride, or on your morning commute.

If you identified with that paragraph, Universal Studios' new Wizarding World of Harry Potter was made for you. If your favorite Harry Potter character is Gandalf or you think you recognized some of those words from Game of Thrones, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was made for you, too. In creating the ultimate IRL tribute to the series and its fandom, the park's creators sought to blend the boundaries between the books and the movies while also appealing to both fans and muggles alike. You don't have to be a Harry Potter fan to appreciate their efforts, but the park will do its best to convert you. 

In fact, there's so much going on at the park that it would take a time-turner to document it all. So L.A. Weekly recruited an expert to walk us through the process of bridging several worlds across several years to create an ode to British magic in the middle of Hollywood: Alan Gilmore, supervising art director for the park and art director for the second, third and fourth Harry Potter films. (Gilmore's favorite character: Sirius Black. The Hogwarts house he'd be in: "I won't reveal it.")

Here are 9 ¾ things to know before the park opens on April 7:

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

1) The park was designed by many of the same people who created the films.
After his work on Harry Potter movies two through four, Gilmore was art director for The Bourne Ultimatum and X-Men: First Class. He was working in London when he got a call from Stuart Craig, production designer for the Harry Potter films. Craig said, "'We're going to do a theme park,' and my first instinct was, 'Oh my God,'" Gilmore remembers. He'd been to other theme parks, and he wasn't impressed by their production quality. "I was nervous. It was a very interesting first few steps."

Much of the original U.K. team behind the films' aesthetics signed on to work on the park, where they began to create Hogwarts and Hogsmeade all over again. "We took our designs and translated them exactly the way we had designed them for the films," Gilmore says. The team re-created Ollivander's, Hogwarts and the streets of Hogsmeade Village, with a few notable exceptions including lighting and materials.

The biggest challenge was turning a very temporary film set into a real place — one that relied on the Southern California sun for lighting instead of a director of photography and could be easily traversed by real people. "On a film set we can have very strange-shaped rooms with low archways," Gilmore says, "and in a theme park we're creating a safe place where children and adults and people with wheelchairs can actually visit."

Because the development of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter park at Universal Studios Orlando overlapped with the creation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the film team was able to borrow some of the film's actors — including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint — to shoot extra footage specifically for the parks. Visitors will recognize a few famous faces as they make their way through Hogwarts for the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” 3-D ride. Tell the Fat Lady we said hello. 

Honekydukes: for all your jelly slug needs
Honekydukes: for all your jelly slug needs

2) The magic is in the minutiae.
There is no part of this park that an entire team of people couldn't write a dissertation about. The creative team — set designers, costume designers, food designers, etc. — began with 60 to 70 people, but that number grew into the hundreds once the work crossed over to the United States, Gilmore says. And all of those people were hyper-focused on making the park as realistic and as true to the series as possible. 

"Every detail gets attention, no matter how big or small," says Gilmore, including some details visitors might not notice even after multiple trips. Don't even get him started on the amount of work that went into the restrooms. In some of the offices in the park's Hogwarts castle, all the books have words on their pages, even though no visitor will ever flip through them. "It's a world of small details. As people go and visit several times, they should see more and more little moments and little things from the film."

Ultimately, Gilmore says the hardest part was deciding what to cut — a list that included series landmarks like the Shrieking Shack: "We had to focus and pick the most iconic parts."

As you stand in line for "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," Hogwarts' four founders argue on the walls around you.
As you stand in line for "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," Hogwarts' four founders argue on the walls around you.

3) J.K. Rowling worked directly on the details, of course.
"She was involved in everything," Gilmore says. "In the early days, she had absolute, detailed involvement — all the food tastings and the costumes. What we created is exactly what she saw in her head."

The only thing missing from Dumbledore's office is Fawkes.
The only thing missing from Dumbledore's office is Fawkes.

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4) There are Easter eggs hidden all over the park. 
This is where a time-turner would come in handy. (If only the ones in the gift shop actually worked!) The Hollywood version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is home to more original props from the films than the Orlando version, including luggage racks and seats from the Hogwarts Express, the school benches and chalkboard from the Dark Arts classroom and Cho Chang's dress from the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire

"The original props blend in with the actual props," Gilmore says. Everything from the brass markerboard in Dumbledore's office to the bottles of firewhisky at the Three Broomsticks was created to resemble the way audiences saw them in the films. "The quality is so high that you can't tell the difference between the original props and the re-creations."

Fleur Delacour's crew from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic performs at the park.
Fleur Delacour's crew from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic performs at the park.

5) The park was scripted and storyboarded just like a film.
"It was a very interesting process, because we didn't have a perception of what a theme park really is," Gilmore says. So from the beginning, the U.K. design team approached the park just like a film. "The way we design a film is that it's for real anyway. Here the sets are joined together and all merged into one place, so it all became one big film set. "

This time, the creative team couldn't take visitors from one location to another using cuts, as they could with a film audience. So instead they designed the park with a series of reveals, Gilmore says. As visitors walk through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the architecture notes the transition from Hogsmeade Village to Hogwarts campus, which is based on a blend of a few real Scottish castles.


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