Universal Creative took muggles behind the scenes of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the 2015 Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Summit. The presentation was by the Universal Creative team responsible for creating Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. The panel included Thierry Coup – Senior Vice President of Creative Studio, Dale Mason – Vice President & Executive Art Director, Chris Oliver – Senior Director, Engineering and Safety, Katy Pacitti – Producer, Mark Rhodes – Director Creative and Justin Schwartz – Senior Manager, Ride & Show Engineering.

Behind the Scenes of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Incredible behind the scenes photos, concept and blueprints accompanied the in-depth presentation. Unfortunately, attendees were prohibited from recording the presentation or taking any pictures. Below are some of the highlights that I gleaned from the presentation:

During the initial brainstorming meetings for the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it was discussed that Diagon Alley and Gringotts would be constructed if Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were successful. It was quickly apparent that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was incredibly successful and work soon began on the second phase.

Hogwarts Express

The inclusion of the Hogwarts Express attraction strongly influenced the design for the rest of the land. Universal Creative spent 9 months traveling to Switzerland to oversee the creation of the Hogwarts Express. Made mostly of fiber glass and aluminum.

Hogwarts Express - Wizarding World of Harry Potter

London and Diagon Alley

60 designers worked for 9 months in London to create the detailed sculpting of the London exterior buildings. The work was then shipped over to Orlando, Florida 18 months before opening.

The replica of the Piccadilly Circus Fountain in London was created by lidar scanning the real fountain.

The Knight Bus has a fully detailed interior complete with tooth brushes even though guests can’t enter the bus and can only see through the vehicle’s windows.

Diagon Alley street can accommodate 5,500 guests per hour. 2.5 hours is the average stay.

Over 1200 show drawings were created during the development of the street.

The Gringotts statue had to be gilded in real gold to capture the necessary look. Other materials were not authentic enough. Isn’t that crazy?

Crocket Market was designed to ensure more shade space, which was an issue with the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

1 person spent an entire year solely creating custom telescope props for one Diagon Alley shop.

In Knockturn Alley, shrunken heads in a display window sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home” from the film Jaws as a tribute to the Jaws ride, which previously occupied the land where Diagon Alley now stands.

Stuart Craig, the Production Designer for the Harry Potter movies, didn’t want to use any of the signs from the Harry Potter movies in Diagon Alley so they had to be recreated.

Ghost graphics (Faded painted graphics on the buildings) are unique to the theme park to create an authentic Victorian London and were not in the movies or books.

The Universal Creative team is immensely proud of the fire breathing dragon.

Diagon Alley - Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

The synchronization of every system together was the biggest challenge in developing the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.

40 4k Christie projectors are used in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.

Footage shot at 8k. 60 fps. 3.5 minutes of media equaled the data of a full movie since there are not any cuts. Previs done at Third Floor.

Escape from Gringotts - Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Interactive Wands

Considered using Wii video game console technology for the interactive wands, but it was deemed too complicated and expensive. The team next considered the Xbox Kinect, which uses IR, but that wouldn’t work well in the sunlight. IR also can’t distinguish between an authentic wand and a knock-off. Original wand prototype had batteries and a light on the top. Worked well, but not robust enough or authentic enough. Unfortunately, the team wouldn’t divulge the technology they finally used in the interactive wands.

Approval Process

I asked the Universal Creative team what the approval process was like during development. They joked that it sometimes felt like litigation due to the back and forth discussions between Universal Creative, Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling’s team.

The content in the books always trumped the movies.

Went from Dale at Universal Creative to Alan at WB and then to the WB team, then to JK’s book agents.

Universal team members had to know everything about Harry Potter to push back against WB and JK. Katy was especially proud of being Universal Creative’s Harry Potter expert. She even beamed while mentioning the few times she was able to prove J.K. Rowling’s team wrong about a fact.

Universal Creative Team - Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Image Credit: Johanna Atilano – Theme Park Adventure