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Hogwarts Goes to Hollywood
Universal Studios’ new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California doesn’t open until April 7, but we’ve got your exclusive first look at the magical theme park right here. Alan Gilmore, supervising art director for the Harry Potter film series as well as the Wizarding World, gave EW an exclusive tour of the immersive park, providing insight and highlighting hidden gems along the way. Check out our sneak peek photos and keep checking back for more exclusive coverage in the weeks leading up to the park’s opening.
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Welcome to Hogsmeade
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California places Potter fans right into the village of Hogsmeade, which is nestled in the Scottish Highlands close to Hogwarts. “Once you’ve walked through that arch, you’re now in Scotland. You’ve traveled to J.K. Rowling’s Scottish Highlands,” Gilmore says. “It’s all based in absolute reality, so it’s not really fantasy, as such; it’s more heightened reality. We’ve taken real buildings and we’ve referenced real architecture and made it more Harry Potter.”
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A Giant Film Set
While in the books’ reality, Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are a few miles apart (whether you travel above ground or take the passage under the statue of the one-eyed witch!), the Wizarding World in Hollywood seamlessly condenses various iconic Potter locations into a much smaller space. “The whole composition is, you’re set up to see Hogsmeade and then [you] see Hogwarts loom above you. It’s all designed as a giant film set,” Gilmore explains. “And it’s absolutely identical to the film sets. It’s the most authentic rendition that could be done.”
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The Wizarding World’s Hogwarts was built using visual tricks to exaggerate its height and majesty. “It’s all done in perspective,” Gilmore explains. “The castle on the ground is what we call full-scale, and the further up you go, the scale reduces, so it becomes almost a quarter size, which is a real film trick, which we used a lot in the movies as well.” As the castle’s imposing skyline is partially the result of moviemaking illusions, its accoutrements are also modeled after the films: These two winged boar statues, the guardians of Hogwarts (in addition to the various enchantments that protect the school, of course), were created using the same mold as the boar statues from the film sets.
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Matching the Movies
Stuart Craig, the production designer for all the Harry Potter films and the Wizarding World, brought in Gilmore to “chaperone Harry Potter into the theme park world,” Gilmore explains. “[We] work with the Universal team and help them match as best as possible what we created on the movies.” Match they did: The Wizarding World’s Hogsmeade resembles the films so closely, from the cobblestone streets to the colorful storefronts to the Gringotts ATM and Honeydukes candy wrappers, that you’d have to be a real Squib not to feel the magic.
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Hiding the Modern Details
Gilmore calls the process of turning film sets into real buildings “a huge challenge” but “an amazing journey. Because a film set is one-sided, you can hide everything,” he explains. But in the park, guests see J.K. Rowling’s magic world the same way Harry Potter does — from every angle. “These are real buildings; they actually function,” Gilmore says. “The challenge is to hide everything, hide all the modern details and make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.”
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Old-Fashioned Inside and Out
Even behind the Potter-ified façades, Gilmore and his team didn’t cut corners to give the park an old-world feel. “There’s no electricity,” he says (meaning eckeltricity, of course). “It’s all gas lighting, oil lighting. Any machines are mechanical, they’re not modern electronics. You’ll see motors; you’ll see chains; you’ll see the kind of older style of engineering.”
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The Hollywood Highlands
It wasn’t as much of a stretch to bring the Scottish Highlands to the Hollywood Hills as fans might think. There are already two Wizarding World locations, in Orlando and Japan, but Gilmore says the California park is his new favorite. “You have the mountains, the valley beyond, and it almost looks Scottish to me,” he explains. “So that really helps locate it a lot better.” The Hollywood location was particularly significant, too, for “being in the home of movies,” Gilmore adds. “Bringing the story here was very important to us, and to tell it exactly as it should be.”
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Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop
Though Harry Potter’s world is obviously fictional, it exists within the (very nonfictional) United Kingdom, and retaining that sensibility was important to the design team. And what could be more delightfully British than Madam Puddifoot’s charming teashop? Doesn’t it look just ideal for Valentine’s Day? (Just be sure not to tell your date you want to meet up with Hermione afterward…)
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The Three Broomsticks
Guests can pop into the Three Broomsticks — another quintessentially Harry Potter, quintessentially British destination — for an authentic pub meal. They can also grab a mug of warm butterbeer (which also comes in cold and frozen varieties) to fight off the chill from the atmospheric (however artificial) snow on the street outside. “Psychologically, it does actually cool you down a bit,” Gilmore observes, “which is quite nice!"
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Checking into the Three Broomsticks
The Three Broomsticks is almost 1,000 years old, Gilmore says, so was designed with medieval architecture in mind. While the downstairs serves as the pub where Hogwarts students would drink butterbeer on Hogsmeade weekends, the upstairs is an inn for visiting wizards. “All these bridges lead to walkways, to bedrooms,” Gilmore explains. “Really it’s this kind of intertwining maze of a building.”
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Three Broomsticks at the Three Broomsticks
Rather than a bike rack, the Three Broomsticks has, naturally, a broom rack for those environmentally conscious wizards who travel via broomstick instead of taking the train or the Knight Bus. While it’s unlikely any of these are sports brooms like the Firebolt or a Nimbus model, all of these brooms in the Wizarding World’s Three Broomsticks were created by the same broom-makers who built the brooms for the movies.
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The Three Broomsticks
The antlers over the fireplace at the Three Broomsticks are another detail locating the world in the Scottish Highlands, part of the “relentless detail” that characterizes the park, as Gilmore describes it, where “everything’s bespoke [and] absolutely fits into the world of Harry Potter.” This cozy spot seems like a great place to hold a meeting to plan a secret underground Defense Against the Dark Arts club, doesn’t it? (Much better than the Hog’s Head, where you might easily be overheard…)
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The Hog's Head Pub
The Hog’s Head Inn, Hogsmeade’s alternative to the Three Broomsticks run by Aberforth Dumbledore, is also at the park. The pub serves Firewhiskey, naturally, as well as three original in-house Wizarding World brews, some regular beers, and British ciders. Keep an eye on the hog’s head behind the bar — like so many other features of the magical park, it’s animated, so it looks around and grunts every now and then.
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Mr. Weasley's Enchanted Car
Mr. Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia is recreated in the park (totaled after its brutal encounter with the Whomping Willow) at the foot of the mountain on top of which Hogwarts sits. "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," the world’s signature ride, flies past the violent tree, as well as over the castle and the Forbidden Forest (where you might catch a glimpse of an Acromantula or two). Boarding the "Forbidden Journey" is practically a ride in itself: The line for the attraction zigzags throughout the castle, passing through some of the most iconic rooms and corridors in Hogwarts.
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Ten Points to Gryffindor!
Walking through the corridors of Hogwarts to get to the "Forbidden Journey" ride, guests encounter various familiar pieces from the films. This House Cup scoreboard is an exact recreation of the same prop from the movies’ Hogwarts. (Gryffindor’s lead, followed closely by Slytherin, should also come as no surprise to fans. Poor showing from Ravenclaw, though!)
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Founders Portrait Gallery
This narrow portrait gallery within Hogwarts features paintings of House founders Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. The founders’ portraits, like many Hogwarts paintings, are animated, and they gossip amongst themselves about certain star students in their Houses as well as give hints about the "Forbidden Journey" ride to come. As guests walk through the castle to get to the Forbidden Journey, various portraits — including Dumbledore and the Fat Lady — prepare them for the ride.
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Defense Against the Dark Arts Class
The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom is one of the key Hogwarts settings guests walk through as part of the line. A dragon skeleton hangs from the ceiling over a room filled with strange and wonderful anti-Dark Arts instruments, and holograms of Harry, Ron, and Hermione appear at the front of the room to whisper instructions for the "Forbidden Journey" before disappearing under Harry’s invisibility cloak. Everything has been painstakingly recreated to be identical to the movies, but there are real props hidden among the new ones throughout the park, and the desks and chalkboard in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom are the exact same ones used in the films.
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The Sorting Hat
The Sorting Hat is the last magical guide on the tour of the castle; guests walk down a corridor leading up to it right before boarding "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey." The ever-insightful piece of headwear has a few last bits of advice for park patrons about to embark on the ride, delivered in his usual verse. For example, for those who have not yet reached Hogwarts age, he warns of the magical seating:
These benches are not safe for you
If you are still too small;
You must be more than goblin-sized
(48 inches tall).
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Guests exit Hogwarts through Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, which houses a functioning Marauder’s Map on display (watch it for a minute to see which characters are lurking nearby!) as well as a collection of keys and trophies (scrubbed clean of all traces of Ron’s slug vomit). While Filch’s Emporium is a shop where visitors can buy a variety of Hogwarts products, a vast array of confiscated goods are kept in a lock-up around the ceiling. If only the Weasley twins could get their hands on that key…
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“I’m very proud of my pumpkins,” Gilmore says, and he has every reason to be: Despite his lack of a pink umbrella containing the pieces of a snapped wand, the enormous orange and yellow pumpkins Gilmore has built are worthy of Hogwarts Halloween décor. Hagrid’s hut is situated beside the "Flight of the Hippogriff" ride, Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor roller coaster, which swoops and dives all around the pumpkin patch. In the Wizarding World storyline, Hagrid built the ride himself, and the hippogriff cars look like they’ve been woven out of wicker.
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Ollivander's Wand Shop
Everyone knows that the wand chooses the wizard, and the Wizarding World recreates that experience for guests at Ollivander’s wand shop (which is actually located in Diagon Alley, of course, and not in Hogsmeade, but it would have been a truly terrible shame to miss out on this wand experience because it was in the wrong fictional shopping district). Ollivander’s shop, like the rest of the park, has been rendered in painstaking detail, with thousands of wand boxes, identical to the ones in the movies, shoved into shelves all the way up to the ceiling of the dim, narrow room.
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The Wand Chooses the Wizard
Ollivander himself tests out different wands on a volunteer, and “depending on how good a wizard you are, they’ll either go well or will not go so well,” Gilmore says. “The room will actually tell you how you’re doing, in a sense, and so will the wandkeeper. It’s a really brilliant experience; there’s a whole lot of effects hidden in the room.” Once the wizard is tested and a wand has chosen them, they go through to the back room, where there is an enormous selection of character wands for purchase. Harry’s, Ron’s, and Hermione’s wands are available, of course, but shoppers can also choose to carry the wand of characters as obscure as Narcissa Malfoy and Rufus Scrimgeour. Some of the wands have more magic than others, however…
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Wand Magic Storefronts
At Ollivander’s, guests can buy a regular collectible character wand or a “wand magic” wand, which comes with a special map of the park that identifies 11 locations where the wand magic wands can perform spells. Many of the wand magic spots are in shop windows, where spells like Alohamora, Revelio, and that time-honored classic Wingardium Leviosa can manipulate the merchandise on display through the glass.
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Zonko's Joke Shop
What would a visit to Hogsmeade be without a trip to Zonko’s? The shop windows here include both merchandise for sale in this location (Pygmy Puffs!) and props and recreations from the films. Just as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were streamlined together for the park, a lot of the shops share space as well, and Zonko’s runs right into another popular Hogwarts student destination: Honeydukes sweetshop. “This is actually two shops, but we didn’t want to increase the scale so they’re too big, like a Walmart,” Gilmore says. “It has to be very intimate; it has to be based on the design of the films — small rooms, low ceilings.” The careful sequencing of the merged shops makes them feel like two distinct spaces, and the colors and graphics change entirely as guests walk from one to another.
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The inside of Honeydukes is good enough to eat. Pretty glass jars packed with sweets and fanciful candy-colored decorations, including a genuine English cast-iron staircase (“you have to have the right staircase,” Gilmore insists) painted bubblegum pink, fill the room. In just one stop at Honeydukes, park visitors can stock up on enough sugar to fuel all the all-night study sessions necessary to power through Hermione’s demanding exam schedule (even in her Time-Turner-assisted third year). The only downside: They’ve apparently blocked the passage into the Honeydukes cellar, because there’s no sneaking in via the tunnel under the One-Eyed Witch.
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Chocolate Frogs at Honeydukes
Honeydukes advertises Chocolate Frogs on its walls, and there’s absolutely no muggle candy sold here. “All the sweets you can buy are actually authentic to the films and the books,” Gilmore says. “You will not see another brand here.” Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans are available both in prepackaged bags and by the pound, and Peppermint Toads and Candy Floss are proudly displayed around the shop. The packaging, too, is perfectly consistent with the world of Harry Potter: “All our graphics are designed by the same graphics team from the movies,” Gilmore explains. “It’s very cohesive.”
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Hogsmeade’s Owl Post, one of the Wizarding World’s many two-story shops, is a real licensed post office, so guests can send letters from the park with an official Hogsmeade stamp. Owls flutter around the shop’s interior, where stuffed Hedwigs and elaborate quills are for sale, and an animated Howler rages in the window display.
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Aboard the Hogwarts Express
Guests can sit in a Hogwarts Express carriage and recreate Harry and Ron’s first meeting by swapping the sweets they bought at Honeydukes while a green screen window behind them depicts scenes from the train ride we all wish we could be on every Sept. 1. There’s a hidden gem in this carriage, too: “We don’t call them out, but many of the props are actually authentic to the films, brought over from London’s Leavesden Studios,” Gilmore says. “In this train carriage, the luggage racks are the actual ones from the Hogwarts Express.” The recreations throughout the park are so exact that you can’t tell the difference between the originals and the facsimiles, but there’s still something special about knowing it’s the real thing.
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The Hogwarts Express
Every year at Hogwarts begins and ends with the Hogwarts Express, and the big, brilliant red engine is on display right at the entrance of Hollywood’s Wizarding World, pulled into the Hogsmeade station. For those of us muggles who never got our Hogwarts letters, the parks are the closest we’ll ever come to taking that train — but it’s as good an approximation as one could ever hope for. “There’s no simplifying or dumbing down — it’s got to be absolutely authentic to the books and films,” Gilmore says. “It’s all about being in the story.” Mischief managed!