Harry Potter fans from all over the world have already been able to visit their favorite Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida – but now they have a chance to see it in Hollywood as well. Universal Studios Hollywood is unveiling its new Wizarding World of Harry Potter on April 7, and it's everything you want in a real-life Harry Potter experience, especially if you secretly think of yourself as a wizard or witch (hand raised!)
Imagine walking through a snow-capped Hogsmeade and visiting the shops there, including Honeydukes Sweet Shop, Ollivander's Wand Shop and more. Drink butterbeer while watching street shows like the Triwizard Spirit Rally. Send an Owl Post (but make sure not to bother the Monster Book in the cage). Or walk through Hogwarts Castle and take a wild 3D broomstick ride with Harry and the gang….
Last month Fandango got a sneak peek the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a special tour guide – Alan Gilmore, supervising art director for several of the Harry Potter movies and one of the main masterminds behind this wonderful World. He gave us some insight into how the theme park came together, what his favorite part is, and how excited he is for people to come and enjoy a little slice of Harry Potter.
Right at the entrance, get your picture taken inside Hogwarts Express, which has several different scenes available as backdrops in the window. A collectible frame plus your photo, and you have a cool keepsake.
As we strolled through Hogsmeade, Gilmore explained he's been in this Wizarding World space for nearly nine years, with the last two years actually building it on the Universal Studios Hollywood site.
“[Production designer] Stuart Craig, the visionary behind all the Harry Potter films, asked me to meet the design team for the Wizarding Worlds on his behalf. So this is a collaboration of the films' design team and Universal theme park creative design. We took the lead overall because it had to look like the films. We designed all the buildings off the films' sets. We studied the light, the environment and then took that information and went back to London to build models of this world. We looked at it like a film set — a really big, big one.”
The Owl Post is an actual fully functioning post office, where visitors can send mail stamped with “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” and postmarked from Hogsmeade. In the window is a Howler, a magic letter that shreds itself after relaying its message.
“We work in a very organized fashion, where we check every detail," said Gilmore. "Create every texture and color. It's also a little bit like cooking, in which we change the flavors a little bit. We tailored the colors more to California, which is very clear, sharp. Each park is tailored to the location, so it is a little bit different due to the light, the weather differences. The actual site we are sitting on is different, the elevations are different, so that helps us make it all the more interesting.”
Gilmore said he believes the mass appeal of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and the Wizarding World stems from the fact it comes from a real place. “J.K. Rowling's stories were based on reality, but a heightened reality. She adopted a lot of folklore and many ideas from Europe, and that's what you see here. Real buildings come to life; you'd find these buildings in Scotland. They are just heightened in detail, their styles to the Wizarding World mythology.”
Careful, he might bite!
He stated this is now his favorite World. “Personally, it really is: the windiness of the streets, the texture on the walls, and the mountains surrounding us. We've adopted the Scottish Highlands here. Our Hogwarts castle sits higher here and looms above Los Angeles and Burbank, which is really fantastic. It's California's new castle, isn't it? Personally, I think it's the best castle.”
Gilmore is also a bit of perfectionist and admitted he is always seeing things he can fix. “I do. Every day, I'm afraid – and it never stops. Waking up in the middle of the nights over the last few years, thinking, This is what we have to do there. We are still tweaking now, little dressmaking details and tiny moments that a lot of people may not pay attention to but will add to the overall experience.”
Hagrid's hut, which you'll pass on the way to the outdoor ride “Flight of the Hippogriff.” You may hear mysterious sounds and Fang's barking coming from inside. As you pass, Hagrid will instruct you how to approach a Hippogriff before you spot one in its nest.
As an art director, Gilmore couldn't help but love the work. “There have been so many favorite parts but realizing the amazing design and exposing it for the world to see has been a great feeling. People smiling, walking around with their wands and butterbeer, and they are really happy. It's a new level of concept on how to realize and movie and a place. Being an art decorator and set designer, it's all about texture and color. It's not something everyone appreciates but for my peers, when they come to see this, they'll recognize that. In my world, they'll go, 'Job well done.’ I hope they will, at least,” he said, laughing.
Overall, Gilmore looks at his labor of love as one of the best place to come explore – or just to hang out. He explained, “It's really not just a theme park, it's a place that can be enjoyed on many levels. It's a destination to come and just hang out. Like here in the Three Broomsticks Inn, you can just come in here and chat all day in one small corner. Just take in the beautiful detail all around you. Enjoy a butterbeer, a feast, maybe have a Hogshead brew, whatever. Just enjoy it all.”
The Three Broomsticks Inn, where you can dine like a Hogsmeade resident on such British favorites as bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, beef and Guiness stew, and fish and chips. Adjacent is the Hog's Head pub, which offers an array of draught beers specially crafted for the land. And of course, non-alcoholic butterbeer is always on tap.
Now go check out the five things you cannot miss at the Experience.