EXT. Hogwarts Castle Concept Illustration by Andrew Williamson
Ten years ago, all the Harry Potter drawings were done in pencil. I would take my roughs and plans and sections and give them to a professional architectural illustrator, who would create concept art using pencil and colour wash on watercolour paper. Nowadays that same illustrator builds digital models.
For the first six Harry Potter movies big exterior shots of Hogwarts Castle sitting in its landscape were actually shots of a miniature made by craftsmen; a huge miniature that occupied a big sound stage. For the seventh and eighth films, it was decided that we would be better off embracing the latest technology. So the set was scanned, and the scan was used to construct a new digital model. When the model was rendered with different textures, it was extraordinary. The detail was astounding, and made it possible to move much, closer to the digital model than to the physical one. To my great surprise, I must say, as I’d have thought it would be the other way round.
Alterations are much quicker. It’s fantastic to be able to change things with just the click of a button – and things do change all the time. Sets have a lot of repetitive detail, and now it is so easy to repeat something 50 times. It’s incredibly fast.
The architectural illustrator’s digital work is so real it looks like still shots from the film rather than concept art. The photo-real quality is there, but it’s done so elegantly. The artist hasn’t just fallen in love with the technology and sold out. He has managed to retain artistic integrity.
But the digital revolution comes at a cost, in terms of human skills. The carpenters, plasterers (mould makers), set painters, sculptors and others are asked to build fewer and smaller physical sets. The virtual film sets are still designed by artists, but they are are built by technicians rather than craftsmen with coordinated hand and eye. It’s a trade-off. On the whole, the gains outnumber the losses. The public certainly haven’t lost out. - Stuart Craig, production designer.