Warning: spoilers galore!!! This blog post includes a very detailed description of the Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. I don’t want to ruin your upcoming visit, so only read on if you want to know all about the new expansion.
A few weeks ago, I was one of the first people to discover the set of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It is the Studio Tour’s biggest expansion to date and I was lucky enough to be invited twice by Warner Bros. in the week of the opening.
To be honest, I wasn’t planning to write a review about the opening of Gringotts Wizarding Bank since I’ve already written about the Studio Tours a couple of times. I was so completely blown away by the extent of the expansion and the amount of change at the studios I had to put this little post together.
Just to set the background a bit, over the past four years, I have been to the studios seven or eight times. The place makes me happy. Always has and always will. Every single visit is a different experience, whether it be because of a new section of the tour opening its doors, a seasonal theme or a series of props being added to the tour.
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion left me speechless. Both times. No words can describe the amount of transformation that has taken place at the studios, but I will try my best to walk you through the new expansion.
The whole place has been completely transformed, and I was here less than 4 months before so the fact it remained under wraps and completely undetected on my last visit is completely and utterly mind blowing!
As I walked through the doors and the new lobby was unveiled, I couldn’t believe how much it had been transformed. The visuals were stunning and the luxurious carpet soft under my feet (I felt like I should be taking off my shoes). As for the Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon overhead, it was imposing to say the least, and quite frankly terrifying.
If you have a bit of time before your tour starts, the Hub featuring the Chocolate Frog Café is worth a stopping at. Cake is served on pretty china, the coffee is lovely and you can even have a full English breakfast or a pastry and juice. The chocolate fountain was the children’s favourite thing!
There is no wasted time at the studio tour, no boring queue spent just standing there wondering what comes next. As you wait to go in, you are not waiting, not really. You have the opportunity to learn more about the films, the stories the actors, look at the photo wall from the Weasleys’ home, reminisce the times when the films had just come out by seeing the posters again and listening to the actors, directors and crew members talk about the films. It’s a fully interactive experience.
It’s all about Privet Drive as you queue to go in, and I think it was spot on to focus on the monotonous row of spiritless houses as you are entering the studios. Number 4, Privet Drive was actually home to the first ever Harry Potter scene. It was filmed in Bracknell, West London and the filmmaking team made sure they emphasised the feeling of dullness by parking the same type of car in front of each house on the street. It’s not until production of the second film that Privet Drive was recreated in the Leavesden studios backlot.
You then enter a truly interactive portrait gallery, featuring Harry Potter fans and the ever-so-playful Weasley twins (well, their real selves, James and Oliver Phelps). After the entertaining interlude, the usual tour resumes, with the well-known story of how the book was discovered, a short stay in the cinema and you make your way into the Hall, as you normally would.
All looks as it usually does, then you hit the cafe and as you leave the backlot, straight after seeing the creatures and Buckbeak, you enter the new Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion where you would previously have gone on to Diagon Alley.
The transition into the new section of the tour is seamless as you find out all about the goblins. You’re not thrown into Gringotts as you would fall down a rabbit hole. No, no, no! It’s all done subtly and to great effect as there is a clear continuity with the creatures section.
First, you get to walk through a gallery of goblin masks. Here, the creative process used to bring the goblins to life is detailed and shown on various displays and you can also see sketches by concept artist Paul Catling.
Turn around and you’ll find out all about continuity binders, which helped script supervisors oversee scene continuity. They would take notes in binders like the one below just to make sure that hair, makeup, small details like eyebrow shape or hair curl remained consistent from shot to shot over several days of filming.
There were lots of makeup and costumes involved in the scenes featuring goblins, so a lot of care had to be taken to ensure that each hairstyle, prop and accessory remained in the exact same place. I loved being able to leaf through continuity binders and see photos of the goblins with attached sticky notes where details were jotted down. It reminds us how much precision and detail is involved in creating scenes that are before our eyes for mere seconds in the films.
As you move along, you can find out exactly how the goblin prosthetics were created, made and made up. Again, the detail involved was quite simply staggering. Prosthetic makeup artist Sarita Alliton walks us through the whole process and you also get a chance to see the props used on set.
It’s a fascinating process:
Step 1: A life cast is made of an actor’s face.
Step 2: Goblin features are sculpted on top, by exaggerating the actor’s nose, ears and chin.
Step 3: Silicone moulds of the updated sculpt are created in 4 pieces: ears and back of head, nose and middle face, chin and top of head.
Step 4: Paint
Step 5: Wig and hair insertion
Step 6: Makeup
The next part of the tour takes you to concept drawings of Gringotts, as well as several models of the bank entrance and a central feature of Gringotts Bank destroyed on a 3 / 8’’ scale (last movie).
When the look of the bank was decided for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Stuart Craig, who was the production designer, decided what was needed was an imposing building so the goblins would look even smaller in contrast.
Craig decided to film the interior scenes on location and picked Australia House in London, an opulent building with imposing chandeliers, marble and mahogany.
A set had to be recreated at the studios for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, when the banking hall is destroyed. Walking into the banking hall gave me goosebumps. Creative genius, artistry and enchanting background music make your entrance into Gringotts Bank nothing short of magical…
The grand hall is lined with marble pillars and the three monumental chandeliers are absolutely magnificent. The goblins’ desks are just like you’d seen them in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, with inkwells, quills, ledgers and piles of Galleons, Sickles and Knuts. The Prop-making Department, led by Pierre Bohanna, created over 210,000 coins for the final two films alone.
Several chandeliers were constructed for the Gringotts set, each set with 25,000 plastic ‘crystals.’ To reduce costs, only the lower halves of the chandeliers (12 feet wide, sixteen feet from top to bottom) were created physically, and the top halves were a computer-generated effect.
The marble floors in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 were actually made of paper! All the individual pieces were cut by hand, stuck to plywood and many layers of lacquer were added to create the final look.
We then entered the vaults. The vault door was built for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and a lot of the moving parts of the vault door were made of resin by the Special Effects Department. A decade later, the door was still functional and was reused for the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
As you enter the depths of the Lestrange Vault, you’ll get a chance to see the Sword of Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup, one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. We absolutely loved the photo opportunity in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault, allowing us to step inside the Lestrange vault and use our phones on timer for a group selfie.
Before you leave the bank, you get to experience the destruction of the hall by the Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon and that’s quite something!
As you get into Diagon Alley, the new expansion experience comes full circle as you walk past the well-know entrance of Gringotts Bank.
Even the gift shop at the end of the tour has completely been redesigned, with an area where you can try all the wands and ask Harry Potter enthusiasts to tell you more about each wand that catches your eye. There’s also a sweet shop area, a ‘school uniform’ area and lots of Harry Potter goodies for sale.
Just in case you were wondering, Gringotts Wizarding Bank is a permanent addition to the tour and it is included in general admission ticket price.
If you want to read about the studio tour with young children, check this post about my visit with three little ones (aged 3, 5 and 7 at the time), and this one about our favourite things at the ‘Harry Potter’ studios (as my children call it).
Disclosure: We attended the press events free of charge and I was not asked to write about the opening of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. I just wanted to share what a brilliant time we had. All photos and copy are my own.
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