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Hogwarts Great Hall
Hogwarts is practically demolished in the eighth film's climactic battle, but razing the school for that sequence was more an act of construction than destruction. ''You can't just go around punching holes in the sets,'' says production designer Stuart Craig. ''You'll just get a lot of visible Styrofoam and plaster. So we had to build completely new sets.'' And to make those sets look freshly dismantled, they needed rubble — and lots of it. The prop department worked nonstop to produce thousands of faux stones, like the ones used for the ravaged Great Hall (here with telltale hints of greenscreen behind it).
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<pThe mountains of new rubble took work. ''It started with a cube of polystyrene, which was dipped in something and rolled in something else, and then finally it was painted,'' says set decorator Stephenie McMillan. ''There was this human chain of rubble production that seemed to go on for months and months. We'd think we had enough, but then we'd need more and they'd have to start up again. You can never have too much rubble.''
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The Great Hall (Alternate view)
The Great Hall was one of the first major set pieces the filmmakers had to construct, and it was one that would have to last them for an entire decade. ''All the benches were handmade, and it was a huge amount of money,'' says McMillan. ''And then it was even more on top of that to have them aged. The producers were positively shocked about it, but they paid for them. And of course 10 years later they still look amazing, so it was a good investment.'' Audiences can barely see some of the set's most impressive elements, including the House Cup hourglasses (pictured, back right corner) and an enormous hand-painted cyclorama that encircles the whole set. ''It's a big matte painting of the view from Hogwarts,'' says Craig, ''so that every time you get a glimpse out a window, you see it in the background. For one scene it was supposed to be the winter, so we painted snow on each of the mountaintops.''
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Wall behind the Great Hall
Rather than just relying on the crutch of greenscreen to produce the mountains glimpsed out of the windows of the Great Hall, the Harry Potter films turned to one of the oldest tricks in the set-design handbook: a giant hand-painted matte cyclorama encircling the entirety of the set. ''Those mountains, by the way, are a compressed version of actual mountains in Scotland,'' says Craig. ''We traveled out there and we combined different areas, some 45 minutes away from each other by car, to make the view.''
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The Ministry of Magic
The Ministry of Magic, that buzzing hive of bureaucracy, was among the largest, most labor-intensive sets built for the series. But while the Ministry represents the wand-waving heart of the wizarding world, Craig took his design inspiration from a decidedly more Muggle example of public works. ''The first thing I latched onto was that it was underground,'' Craig says of the Ministry. ''So I immediately started looking at the London Underground. A tube is really the soundest shape, so we designed it that way, and it makes sense, since the flues are essentially their mode of commute.'' The slick ceramic tiles lining the walls are a staple of London's metro stations, and their modern veneer served as a good contrast with another of the series' major locations. ''It made sense to make the Ministry utilitarian and not at all like the Gothicness of Hogwarts.'' Prop man Kevin Herbert, seen at left, found it hard to let go after production wrapped last fall. ''It was strange after all those years,'' he says. He now spends his days archiving the sets and props for a Potter museum at Leavesden, due to open in 2012.
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Room of Requirement
The Room of Requirement has helped many a Hogwarts student searching for a bathroom, but for the members of Dumbledore's Army, it serves a much more important purpose: a refuge when the school is under siege by the Death Eaters. ''I tried to take inspiration from bomb bunkers, as it's this temporary respite while a lot of bad things are going on outside,'' says Craig. ''Luckily there are still plenty of those in London.''
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The Dursleys reside on a strip of suburban mundanity from which Harry, who spends summers there, longs to escape. ''Originally, it was an actual location,'' says Craig, describing Bracknell, a town near Reading, England, used for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. ''Chris Columbus especially liked the repetitive, homogeneous quality of it.'' But as the scripts began to require increasingly complicated scenes involving magic (and the special effects that made that magic), it grew impossible to continue filming on location. ''It got harder and harder, so we ended up building a one-to-one scale model of the whole street [pictured], which is actually pretty unusual.''