Kissing Friends, 3D Snakes, and a New Shape for Hogwarts- The Deathly Hallows Set Report

Oct 05, 2010

Posted by: EdwardTLC

DH Film

Last March, I was lucky enough to spend the day on the set
of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” film, and speak with a number of
actors, the producers, director, costume designer, production designer and makeup
effects designer for the final chapter of the epic series. During my twelve hours on set, the true
nature of the magical Harry Potter world on film was revealed to me as
countless actors and crewmembers worked tirelessly to bring J. K. Rowling’s
story to life. What follows here
is a full account of my set visit for the first part of the final Harry Potter
film. Enjoy!

Needless to say: spoilers abound!


Kissing Friends, 3D Snakes, and a New Shape for Hogwarts: Leaky’s Deathly Hallows Set Report

by Edward Drogos

Part One: Getting It Right

Walking onto the set of the last Harry Potter films in the
final weeks of production truly gives you a sense of how much work has been
done over the past ten years. And
how now it’s all about to come down.
Things aren’t quite winding down just yet, but there is a sense of nostalgia in
the chilly March air. Actors
Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia), and Harry Melling
(Dudley) had already wrapped”the first of the original cast members to do
so”and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was set to do the same in little over
two months. Production on the
first part of the final Harry Potter film wrapped months previously, and
editing had been taking place for over a year.

“[T]he first
film has to feel like a complete experience’ says “Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows” director David Yates.
“That’s the number one priority.”
Yates, who returns for his third and fourth term in the director’s
chair, is as excited as ever to return to the helm for “It’s too much fun to
stop, honestly. It’s just a great world to be working with. It’s so rich and playful. And the things that you find, I mean¦ for
example, at the beginning of Part One we’ve got this car chase, it’s a wizard
car chase.”

Yates is referencing the escape sequence in the much-anticipated
Seven Potters scene, where Radcliffe is copied six times care of Polyjuice
Potion so he may stealthily escape from Privet Drive. This scene, Radcliffe admits, was the most challenging to
date. “That was one of the most
daunting scenes to do because it was a highly technical visual effects
scene,” recalls Radcliffe.A lot of it is
painstakingly slow then it is complex. There was one shot that was ninety-five
takes because it was…”

[General noise of shock.]

“Yes, you may well recoil.”


“Because, basically, if I’m here in the scene as the real
Harry, then we filmed seven or eight takes of me, playing the scene as me. Then we keep the camera still– it’s a
motion controlled camera so it’s controlled by a computer so it can recreate
exactly the same move at exactly the same time every time– so I stand and we
do the take, then the camera continues its move which was panning around just
on empty space. Then we do the
next take and the camera goes through the same move, except that I am standing
here and pretending to be Fleur or whoever. Starting to take the drink and transform and the camera pans
around us all. We filmed it each
time in seven different places and that was half-assed explanation, but I think
I got the point across.”

This kind of imaginative and complex moment is something
Yates believes draws him back to the films each time, and allows him to do something
new each time. For “Deathly
Hallows’ he says, “these kids are on the road, they feel very small in this
very big world. They’re away from
Hogwarts, this very, big and familiar comfort blanket that they’ve grown up
with. They feel quite
surprisingly vulnerable and fragile in this big Muggle world. And I’ve shot it in a very vérité way
so it feels not as measured and it’s not as conventional… with Half-Blood
Prince I wanted it to be quite elegant, so [“Hallows”] feels a bit raw¦”

An element of that rawness comes from the more mature
performances from the Trio. In
regards to the more emotional elements in the film, Yates explains:

“Well, they’ve gotten older and that means in their life
experience they’ve experienced more and any actor draws on that
fundamentally. So you encourage
them to bring a bit of what they’ve learned from real world in their real lives
into their performances.
Inevitably, they gain nuances that they wouldn’t have had in film Five
or film Six. So, they become a bit more sophisticated in what they do. I’m a big believer in giving them a bit
more freedom to try things, so we might do a take where instead of going ˜cut,’
we just do the take again. And we
do the take again, so we never stop.
So you can give them the opportunity to tune into the moment.

“And one thing I often say to Dan is ‘you got to tune into
this experience.’ It’s a bit like a dial on a radio… here’s a bit of static,
here’s a bit of sound but it isn’t quite right, and here you actually you’re in
it, you’re in that experience. So
we’re always saying let’s try being in that experience… what does it feel
like? And when you’re in that
experience you don’t have to show it. It just happens to you. It just is. There was a moment with Emma… there’s this torturing with
Bellatrix and Emma was really keen to do this torturing scene. And I said, ˜It’ll be really great, but
we’ll have to be really careful how we do it.’ And she completely gave herself
to the process.

“What we did was we set up a couple of cameras and Helena
got on top of Emma, basically, and was writing ‘mudblood’ on her arm. So she was scoring into her skin. We just let the whole thing roll for three
or four minutes… and in those three or four minutes where were some good bits
and some not-so-good bits, and there were one or two moments that were really
powerful where Emma was just able to let go a little bit and forget, for a
moment, that she was acting.

mean she’s still acting… still performing… but she lost herself in this process
for a moment. The screams were
quite horrible to listen to. You
could feel it on the stage, everyone felt uncomfortable, everyone just stepped
back a bit. It was a very odd
energy in the room, cause she was exploring, exorcising demons and serving the
scene in doing that, and it was really interesting.”

Even with those most intimate of acting moments, the enormity of it is is not lost on the actors. Warwick Davis, who portrays the characters of Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has had a thirty plus year career in film, yet still feels “that huge weight behind you” while working on these films. “It can be quite daunting,” says Davis, “because you think ‘I’m the one in
front of the camera here and I’m the one representing this great machine that’s
behind me.’

“That can be quite a daunting thing. Especially, what’s daunting about
Potter for me is [the fact that] we’ve got millions of people around the work
who have read these books and have an image of these characters and how they
behave and how they interact with each other and how this whole thing
unfolds. We’re charged with that
responsibility of representing that which is quite daunting as well. Not so much now as we’re gaining
confidence going through the films as actors, I suppose, you feel more
comfortable with it and you feel it’s more accepted.

“Initially that was one of the things that was
difficult. You have to find a
balance– you think ‘This is what I’d like to do, but I’m sure this is a bit
closer to what is in people’s minds,’ so you find that balance. The support and very much the kind of
family atmosphere that there is now, most of us have been together for close to
ten years now, and it really is like going back to school each time we come
back for another movie. We’ve had
the summer holidays and we’re back for a new term.”

This term, it seems, will be a test in what can be achieved with the latest technologies, for this film will feature 3D elements which are set to be added in post production. Producer David Barron explains by saying, “We’re not shooting it in 3D, it’ll be post-production 3D. The intention [will be for the whole film to be in 3D].” When asked whether the decision to add a full 3D element to the final Potter films, Barron holds firm to the fact that “it’s not because of a fad.

“Obviously, if we didn’t think it was suitable for the film, we, as filmmakers, would have argued very strongly against it. The fact that it’s now possible– and it wasn’t for the last film– even if we wanted to do it, it just wasn’t possible to do it. It was a post-production process. We’re making the movies as we make the movies. The approach to the 3D-isation, or whatever you want to call it, will be tailored so it is the greatest benefit to the film.”

Following the mindset of doing what is for the greatest benefit to the film, the “Deathly Hallows” producers and actors each feel a true sense of duty to hold true to the books. “Jo [Rowling] gives us the opportunities in what she has put together in Hallows to do things that I didn’t do in “Half-Blood Prince” or “Order of the Phoenix,” Yates explains. “She’s so imaginative, so I never feel like I’m making the same movie.

Barron reiterates, and speaks to the news that actor Jason Isaacs was able to craft a unique ending for his character at the end of the “Deathly Hallows” by saying, “Obviously, we discuss with the principal cast; they all are intelligent people, they all have views on what their character would or wouldn’t do or say. Especially having been in for such a very long time, they really know their characters. But, equally, we are servicing the book and so our objective is to make proper filming rendition of the book and we wouldn’t stray too far– it’s nuances, really– we wouldn’t stray very far from what Jo has written because she has given the characters what she felt… if they needed an ending, she’s given them an ending.

“And we are aware that this is the final film and there are certain people that we love, who have– actors like Matthew [Lewis], who plays Neville, and he’s probably got slightly more to do in the film then he had in the book, but it’s just the way it’s panned out. We haven’t sat down and had a big forum with the cast and said ˜Okay, what would you like to do?’ Because we’d still be here next year and the year after probably. We’re out to make a film rendition of the book, so that takes us, to a large degree, how these things work out.

“We’re not inventing anything that’s not in the books. Other than where trying to compress… to present the idea of several episodes that we don’t have room to show every single item, just the same as we always have done. She’s given us the map, and we’re aiming to follow it to the end.”

To that end, David Yates made comments regarding the condensing of story lines, as well as makes mention of a new and emotional scene between Harry and Hermione. He explains:

“We’ve added on a couple of things. Just for jeopardy, we’ve added a scene where the Snatchers chase Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so it’s this moment where they’re pursued in the forest. We’ve added this very tender scene, I mentioned earlier, where they dance. Harry and Hermoione dance. It’s a really beautiful moment. But, there is so much in the book that it’s crazy adding things when we always get criticized when we leave things out. The adaptive process is really hard because you have to invent one or two things to help the structure.”
The crew was tight lipped, however, on the Silver Doe scene, where Ron faces the horcrux of Voldemort taunting him while images of topless Harry and Hermione visions embracing and kissing flash before him. Dan maintains this is not a nude scene.
“I’ve done a nude scene and this wasn’t a nude scene! [Laughter.] There is a fair amount of stripping off and things, but it’s all down to underpants, really. At the very most, I think. There is one scene where… I have to jump into this icy pool and, obviously, I have to be in my pants for that. With the locket and jump in… the locket tries to kill me and then Ron saves me at the last minute. And I dress in a hurry. It really doesn’t worry me anymore, particularly. This time around, they even heated the water which was really, really nice. You’re quite cold out of the water but when you’re in it it’s very nice.”

Filming two epic movies back to back has been a challenge too. “It’s crazy, it’s absolutly crazy,” Yates relates. “I’m editing things now that we shot about a year ago and it feels very strange. I’m looking at Dan a year younger than he is now. It’s just a big marathon, it’s a huge shoot. And go through ups and we go through downs and there are great weeks and there are weeks that are challenging. But we’re coming to the end of it now so it’s really odd coming to the end, it’s really strange.”

Dan Radcliffe, the boy– now a man– who has grown up as Harry Potter, believes “It’ll be very, very odd¦” Coming to the end, is “a very real propspect. The fact that one day I’m going to come in here in a few weeks and I’m going to the makeup rooms for the last time. That will be a moving, emotional day. And I’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of people. But, I mean, it’ll exciting to go on to other things and see what’s out there and that will be great. But, equally, I will miss the crew and the sense of family that we have here will be very difficult to recreate on other films.”

What’s next for the actor who played Harry Potter? “There are loads of stuff I’m thinking about,” Radcliffe says, “but nothing confirmed.” To whether the long-rumored Dan Eldon project, he says “I’m still very much attached to that, but that’s not happening in the next little while, unfortunately… That one we’re going to have to wait for. But, I’m fortunately, with that one, we do have a little bit of time play with as I’m still a few years younger than Dan was, so we’ve got a little bit of leeway there. Which is very, very nice.”

Whenever that may be, we still have two Harry Potter films to go. We’re no where near done yet.


Part Two: The Ministry, Privet Drive, and the Gentleman’s

At long last, we were able to make our way around the
sprawling factory space that now houses Leavesden Studios, the production
center of the Harry Potter films.
The production has set up camp there for over ten years, and seems to
have the run of the place. We
leave our tent”yes, a tent”and begin to weave through spaces and stages across
the lot. As you make your way
through the sets, you catch glimpses of props and backdrops from previous
films. Both the Privet Drive set
and Weasley House are constructed not too far way from the studio structure,
and fill you with a slight sense of thrill and magic when you see them.

Inside, we step into the courtroom where Professor Umbridge
interrogates Mary Cattermole. The sickeningly
sweet feeling of Dolores’ presence abounds in this room, for it is filled with
pink and purple file folders of documents of information on her detainees. Each bound lilac folder contains a
shuffle of papers, each created on site for the specific purpose of being
stuffed into a file folder.

Our tour moved onto elements of the Ministry of Magic set,
which was designed with the Victorian-built London Underground system in
mind. As our guide said, if a
Muggle got lost in the tunnels of the tube, they could very well find their way
into the Ministry if they’re not careful.
The same gleaming bricks were in place, along with construction crews
working on various elements of the sets as we continued on tour. It was also while walking through the
Ministry that we first learned of the new statue that would replace the
previous Ministry statue that was destroyed in Dumbledore’s battle with Lord

This statue takes a
number of influences from Stalin-istic art and design, a theme that was studied
and molded from statues created in the Soviet Union during the early to mid 1900s. Even while the statue was being molded,
it was obvious a new reign had taken over the Ministry. Muggles were now crushed together while
holding up their magical superiors.

From there, we got our first glimpse of filming as the
Second Unit shot footage for what they refer to as the “Gentleman’s Toilet
Scene.” About a half-dozen men in
varying forms of wizard wear line up to take their place walking into bathroom
stalls which, in the magical world, will flush them into the Ministry of Magic.

Our tour then leads us to the Great Hall, the longest
standing set of the Harry Potter films production. One of the most curious things of the visit happened during
this time, for I walked into the Great Hall to see a shimmering white peacock
observing me carefully from its place in the corner of the set. This is the everyday life for the cast
and crew working on the film, but an extraordinary occurrence for me. The animal, I later came to find out,
was being acclimated to the set for its split second role in the Malfoy Manor
sequence during the film’s opening.

Magic was truly around every corner during this set visit, and presented itself in the most interesting of ways.


Part Three: Creatures, Statues, and Props

If one experience could be chosen as a highlight of the
entire experience, it would have to be the hour or so spent with Nick Dudman,
the Special Makeup Designer for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
film. However, he’d more readily
call himself someone who likes to make toys. His Creature Effects realm on set is expansive and covers
everything from design of the Magic is Might statue at the center of the
Ministry of Magic to the application of thousands of individual hairs onto the
eyebrow of one prosthetic application for an actor. He does not do this all himself; at one point his crew
encompassed a total of 158 people, each putting the oftentimes unseen and
underappreciated details onto the countless makeup and prop effects seen in the

Touring around his workspace, remnants of props greet you
everywhere. The eyes of the
gigantic Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes head stares at you from the corner of one
space, while hallways and alcoves are packed with boxes and trinkets”set
dressings only glimpsed for a moment in the films. Then, you come across an industrial shelving unit with the
life-size prosthetic recreation of Hagrid’s head sitting there as if it were a
teacup¦ or, tankard, I should say.
Beneath that lies a life-size dummy of Albus Dumbledore stretched out across
a bottom shelf, looking far too creepy to be allowed. It speaks to the kind of care and detail put into these
objects that for a while afterwards, the creepiness of what you saw lingers.

However, the life-size dummy of Dumbledore was nothing compared
to the writhing and moving animatronics mannequin used in place of the real
actress as Charity Burbage in the opening sequence of the Harry Potter
film. (Revealed to us with her
knickers showing. Not on purpose,
of course.) As Mr. Dudman
explained, it would have been impossible to suspend the actress playing the
role of Charity Burbage above the Death Eater meeting for the whole duration of
the filming that dialogue-heavy scene.
Instead this life-size mannequin”whose skin felt as real as my own”was used

What is particularly jarring was how, if you didn’t know
these were props, they could have been so easily mistaken for real people. This level of reality is due to the
time and labor-intensive process with which each dummy”and, additionally”each
silicone makeup piece goes through before it is used on camera.

And, yes, we did take a moment to mourn the dummy of Dobby
as we passed his place in the workshop.

Past Neville’s cactus plant and Harry’s broomstick, we move
into the design studio where the aforementioned Ministry statue is being
constructed. The collection of
intertwined Muggles was sculptured based off of sketches, using the Stalinist
design cues, and molded together to form a platform on which the statue of the
all-powerful wizard and witch stand.
The witch and wizard, however, will be added as a digital set extension
and not actually sculpted and put into place.

The relationship between the digital special effects (CGI)
and actual prop making is combining, Dudman believes. He says, “I think we are hitting the middle ground. CG came along and it bulldozed
everything for a period of years.
And went into areas where it doesn’t work as some traditional
methods. That is now settling
back; it’s like the tide is going back out, for which I am eternally
grateful. But, it’s also changed
how we do things, because we use computers and digital stuff a lot to achieve
something practically¦ All of it is a brilliant aid in doing something


Part Four: Weddings and Settings

An exciting part of the visit was getting an early look at
some of the production stills and artwork from the film. Among them, Fleur’s dress, which Jany
Temime, costume designer for the films, calls “witch princess dress.”

“Fleur is French so the idea was to have a wedding with a
little French tone. Not a Weasley
wedding, which would have been tragically bad taste, but a French wedding with
style. Fleur has always been,
especially in the book– it’s actually much more described in the book than it
is in the script– that Fleur is really liking her clothes and completely
anti-Hermione, anti-every single girl in Potter. She really believes in clothes and being beautiful and all
that. I wanted to design for her a
real witch princess dress. But I also wanted to find a very witchy thematic
[for the wedding]. So, I thought
of the Phoenix; the Phoenix being a bird, maybe not of love but of rebirth and
because love is eternal, so is the Phoenix.”

Also among the photos were images of the different locations
and sets used in the film. Stuart
Craig, who has been the film’s production designer since day one, spoke at some
length about the evolution of the style, look, and feeling of the series as it
has progressed.

Q: You’ve been on from the beginning; can you talk about the
evolution of the look of the films over the course of the seven movies?

Stuart Craig: Following the seriousness and the emotional
content of the movies, they have got darker and the sets have literally got
darker. That rather attractive
honey color that you saw in the early movies, we’ve gone and painted out, not
completely, but made them significantly darker in the recent films. That very much has happened. Also, when we started them there were
just two novels and they’ve come out sequentially since then, so not everything
was known. We didn’t know of the Room of Requirement, so we had to change¦
certain changes have been forced upon us.
The Astronomy Tower has had to pop up in the middle of the whole complex
and the forecourt in front of it has had to get bigger and bigger to
accommodate the battle at the end, particularly. The viaduct that joins you to the courtyard that takes you
into the Entrance Hall and the Great Hall that relationship has shifted
around. Then there are other of
improvements that are just there because they look better. We had a chance to improve it, so we’ve
improved the silhouette of the castle.

Q: Has the silhouette has been able to stay similar? Do you
think it is still recognizable from One to Seven?

SC: I think that’s a good question (laughter), and I’m not
sure… No, I think the iconic,
identifiable bit is the Great Hall and that big tower just to the side of it–
which is Dumbledore’s Tower, with the conical roof and those three little
things, they’ve been there forever– and then the big facade to the right of
that has been there from the very beginning. I think we’ve messed around with the silhouette, but those key
bits have stayed permanent.

Q: How often do you end up going back to the book as a
source for ideas and inspiration, as opposed to just sticking with the
script? Do you comb through the
Seventh Book to find inspiration?

SC: We do look through the books all the time. And very
recently looked at Godric’s Hollow again and looked at what the book had to
say, look at what Jo Rowling had to say about the state of the Potter house in
Godric’s Hollow. We’d built it for
the first film, we built it once again for the seventh film, then had to
rebuild a bit– to do with Alan Rickman’s availability and so on– there was a
continuity issue there and we refer to the book. But, it is typical; we do all the time. It is so specific and precise. Everything is grounded in the book, I
think. I know the scale is sometimes
increased enormously; there are lots and lots of omissions because there have
to be. You’re making a movie out
of a novel, certainly, a very long novel.
But, nonetheless, I think everything is grounded in the book in the
spirit of it, at least, if not in the letter of it and the reference is constant.

Q: What’s it like coming to each film with a new director,
being there as the guy who has been there since day one?

SC: I have very
carefully and deliberately said to every one of them, “You don’t have to
have me.” (laughter) I can
see that there is a perception that you do have to have me because I know
what’s continuity, I know what we did before and how to rebuild it, and so
on. But it isn’t as necessary as
it appears. I did very
deliberately, as I say, say that to every one of them. I think the changes of director have
been exciting and stimulating, entirely good for the whole project,
really. And even the changes in
cameramen too, the different look, the different mood, the different style…
and I think, frankly, a change in designer would have produced similarly
interesting results.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” will arrive in theaters on November 19th.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.