After more than five years in the making, and inspired by the stories and characters created by J.K. Rowling, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is officially open at Universal Studios Hollywood and already a huge success, even selling out on opening day. Back in February, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other press outlets, to tour the immersive new experience and learn about how it all came to be.
While there, we heard from Alan Gilmore, the supervising art director for the Harry Potter films, who shared details on how everything was envisioned and built, the importance of the attention to details, providing a storytelling adventure for everyone, making Hogwarts castle the iconic focal point, the authentic props throughout, the type of food and merchandise available, the rides, and why they’re not even thinking about expansion yet. We’ve compiled a list of 17 things that you should know about “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” has been masterfully recreated with impeccable detail, as a real-world interpretation and is faithful to the visual landscape of the fiction and films, and everything is tweaked a little bit to fit the location that it’s in.
- At the Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood, everything is designed specifically to the light and how it looks in the light. At this location, you can see the light and colors for miles, which makes it the best place in the world for an art director to work.
- Everything came from J.K. Rowling, so she is heavily involved in all of the design and development, as well as any words, shop names or stories they tell. They want you to be able to watch the movie and then walk into the theme park, and it’s the same. To Rowling, it’s all one global world that tells the same story.
- Each Wizarding World theme park presents a storytelling adventure in the world of Harry Potter. When you go see a movie, the director is telling you want to look at. But you are the director when you go to Wizarding World, so it’s up to you to decide where to look. Because of that, it has to all be perfect, from every angle.
- They start the design with little architectural models, with all white buildings and streets, and then they compose it and spend many hours moving it, just to get the best look to it all. Sight lines are very important when they’re designing the structure and deciding the placement because they don’t want you to see everything right away. It’s about the reveal.
- Each time they build a Wizarding World, they use a local creative team and local art designers, but they follow strong guidelines from the film, with the architecture and colors. Everything is created by hand, from the stone to the wood, with a lot of love. You cannot buy any of the materials out of a catalog. And the buildings are designed both outside and inside, which is its own challenge. For the movies, the inside and outside are built separately, on different soundstages.
- Hogwarts castle is the iconic focal point and it’s designed with forced perspective, so that it looks a lot bigger than it is. The buildings are actually a quarter of reality, but you think they are to scale because of how they’re built. The winged birds at the entrance are from the same molds as the ones in the movie.
- Different from Orlando, they created a very European alleyway that’s exclusive to the Universal Studios Hollywood location. It helps to immerse you in the village more because they’ve created more buildings. There are also other little bits that differ between the Hollywood and Orlando theme parks, but it takes a keen eye to spot the differences.
- There is a collection of film props specific to Universal Studios Hollywood, which blend in perfectly with the recreated items. They don’t have signs pointing them out because they want it to be a subtle mix. For example, at Hogsmeade station, there is a Hogsmeade Express train carriage compartment, and the luggage racks are the actual luggage racks that Harry and Hermione sat under. In the Dark Arts classroom in Hogwarts, the desks are the actual desks they sat at and the chalkboard is the actual chalkboard. In Gladrags, Cho Chang’s actual dress from the Yule Ball is on display.
- This Wizarding World has two rides. The 3D-HD hyper-realistic technology used for the Forbidden Journey ride truly allows you to be a part of the world. For the ride, the film team worked with Universal to create an experience like no other with a queue that provides yet another way to enhance and enrich the ride itself. As you wear Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles, you spiral and pivot 360-degrees along an elevated ride track. The other ride, the Flight of the Hippogriff, is a family roller coaster that is unique to Hollywood, in its ride experience and shape. It is the first outdoor roller coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- You can pick up authentic food at beverages at multiple locations, including Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head pub and Butterbeer carts. You can also purchase items in eight retail venues – Ollivanders wand shop, Honeydukes, Owl Post, Zonko’s Joke Shop, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Dervish and Banges, Gadrags Wizardwear, and Flich’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods.
- At Ollivanders, there are magic wands and collectible wands, character wands and interactive wands, and you can buy your own custom wand. There is a wand show where you can be selected for a wand, after the wand keeper figures out what kind of wizard you are and what wand will fit you, and then you can choose whether to purchase that wand. You can also get an accompanying map of Hogsmeade, which shows you where to recite specific spells for an interactive experience at 11 magic windows located throughout the land.
- Honeydukes offers candy that is entirely authentic to the films, and it is a perfect blend of what you can find in England and Scotland.
- The Owl Post has its own postmark and stamps, and you can send a special letter from Hogsmeade to anywhere in the world.
- Three Broomsticks, is the restaurant/inn that was designed as a place where the students could come hang out and stay, and the walkways and bridges lead to the individual rooms. For the park attendees, you can either order an individual meal or the Great Feast, which is personally delivered to your table. The broomsticks that are hanging up around Three Broomsticks were made by the same people who made the ones in the film. There is also an outdoor seating area with a view of Hogwarts castle.
- Because there is no electricity in the Wizarding World, all of the mechanics are exposed and you can see how everything works. There’s no technology, it’s just magic and mechanics.
- They currently have no future plans to expand the Wizarding World area, as it’s taken a long time and a lot of effort to bring it all to life.
You can get more information about Universal Studios Hollywood at www.universalstudioshollywood.com.