A Tour of Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood With Supervising Art Director Alan Gilmore

Wizarding World Hollywood 2016_5589From the door knobs to the aged walls and textured flooring. From original merchandise to table tops in Three Broomsticks. These authentic details are an integral part to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Supervising Art Director Alan Gilmore has a story to tell behind it all. Gilmore worked on the Harry Potter films as an Art Director, and was brought on to work cohesively with Universal Creative to bring Hogsmeade to life and help translate the film design into a real place.

“I’ve learned so much with them [Universal Creative]. It’s been a really fascinating journey for the last seven years with us working together,” Gilmore explained to a group of us as we walked together into the Wizarding World.

While the overall design is nearly identical to the previous opened lands in Orlando and Osaka, Hollywood’s landscape played a pivotal role in its creation – from large mountain ranges resembling the Scottish Highlands, to the way sun shines across the village – this version has its unique charm that fully embraces the city it is built in. Each Hogsmeade is tailored to its location and with Hollywood, the creative team learned quickly that Southern California sunlight will help them in a great way. The amazing shadows and the sharp contrasts they create throughout the day help enhance the details, texture and colors throughout the land. We’re very lucky to live in such a beautiful city; it’s fantastic how Hogwarts stands out on the Universal Studios Hollywood hilltop in the most perfect way possible.

An icon of the Harry Potter story - a sense of arrival into the most wondrous land.

An icon of the Harry Potter story – a sense of arrival into the most wondrous land.

In creating Hogsmeade, the process was similar to creating a film by using scripting and storyboards as well as other technologies such as models (digital and physical) that helped create a coherent and deliberate design; to make guests feel like they’re stepping into history. A seamless experience from page to film, and into reality.

“Beyond having a script and the characters and a story to tell, the environment has to be perfect,” explained Gilmore.

Gilmore emphasized that detail is a huge and important aspect to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. From owl droppings on the ground, to the icicles hanging from the eaves of each structure, Universal worked closely with the original film designers to create an experience that reinforces the Potter atmosphere. All details are chosen and crafted, knowing they will age naturally with time – a constantly-evolving environment from this point forward.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is home to many locations that Harry fans will immediately recognize, including Zonko’s Joke Shop, The Three Broomsticks, Ollivanders Wand Shop, and more waiting to be explored. What differentiates this experience from other theme park offerings is the excellent attention to detail and level of immersion. Working closely with the original team from the films and author J.K. Rowling herself, every detail has been carefully executed; the house sweaters are made in Scotland, trinkets and candies are fully-themed and not from the “outside world”, and there are no Coca-Cola beverages to be found. In the intimate and compact Hog’s Head, which Gilmore describes as “dark and menacing”, guests are able to enjoy alcoholic beverages, including draught beers that are exclusively brewed for the Wizarding World. Everything is carefully designed to fully immerse guests in the world of Harry Potter, and that is incredible dedication that I will forever applaud the Universal team on achieving.

The queue experience of the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is truly a stand-out experience on its own. From talking portraits lining the castle’s chamber walls, to Dumbledore’s office, the stunning attention to detail truly supports the entire experience. The attraction itself is incredible – it really is – but what Universal has managed to create, is a rich storytelling experience from the minute guests walk into the Hogwarts queue to the second they “land” from their Forbidden Journey.

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Gilmore explained that art directing films is very different to theme park design. Instead of designing from a fixed camera view on a staged and temporary set, every view in a theme park is visible. Gilmore expressed that it is, “quite special for an Art Director to do” when creating a world that is permanent, tangible and designed with a strong effort to hide the real world. “You have to see several steps ahead. Whether it’s opening the door, or once you see through the door. You want all those views to be perfect.”

In 2011, I took my first steps onto the streets of Hogsmeade in Orlando. I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the castle while the area music embraced me. A world that I’d fallen in love with in books and on film had finally become tangible. It was the most thrilling, emotional, and personal theme park experiences of my life. And now, many special moments like mine will occur for guests visiting Los Angeles from around the world.

Here we are. It has finally arrived here in Southern California.

– Johanna Atilano

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