From an old aerodrome to a Harry Potter studio: A trip inside JK Rowling’s magical world

How an old aerodrome in Leavesden is now Britain's new home for film production, where the latest Harry Potter flick - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - was shot.

Written by Divya A | Updated: November 28, 2016 3:13 pm
fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them_759 A magical transformation: From The Philosopher’s Stone to the recent Fantastic Beasts, this old aerodrome has been home to many wizarding tales.

Fifteen years after the first film in the Harry Potter franchise was released, viewers across the world are raving about the new JK Rowling creation – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But not many may be aware that most of the photography for the film was done at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, near London. And what’s better, the die-hard fans of the franchise may even pay a visit to the studio, as they conduct a guided tour for visitors, at a price (starting from £35).

Meanwhile, here’s a little back story. In 2000, an enterprising production team made its way to a film studio on the outskirts of London. The producers were making a film based on a book about a young boy with a lightning bolt scar who, on his 11th birthday, learns that he is a wizard. That story was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and that studio was Leavesden.

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Let’s go back a little bit more. From 1939 to 1994, the studios were known as Leavesden Aerodrome, a local airfield and factory. During World War II, the plant produced fighter planes for the British Ministry of Defence and, in the following years, it became a production centre for Rolls-Royce aircraft engines.

The factory closed in 1994 and Leavesden began a major transformation. Hangars became soundstages for filming and workshops for constructing sets and props. Meanwhile, the airfield’s runway and grassy fields turned into a fully functioning backlot. The old aerodrome was now the UK’s new home for film production.

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Interestingly, Warner Bros is the only Hollywood studio to own and operate a production facility in the UK, following a £100 million-plus investment into rebuilding and expanding the Warner Bros Studios Leavesden. The state-of-the-art, updated studios opened for business in 2012 and is one of the largest production facilities in Europe.

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Filming began on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in September 2000 and the Great Hall was one of the first sets to be built; a vast and impressive space that could seat more than 400 children. It subsequently became a key set, which can be seen in seven Harry Potter films (the Great Hall does not appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1) and now permanently resides at the Studio Tour for visitors to explore.

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Shooting began on the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in September 2007. During the filming, Rupert Grint turned 21 and the cast and crew celebrated with a children’s-themed party in the studio canteen. In this film, a model of The Burrow was set ablaze and partially destroyed. Afterwards, the entire interior part of the set (inside and out) was rebuilt and redressed on the studio back-lot for the final films. The charred walls were given a quick coat of whitewash and, of course, the set retained all of the familiar Weasley touches.

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Train to Hogwarts is the most impressive section at the studios. It naturally gets most attention, as visitors – young, old and very young alike – like to spend a lot of time here. There’s a wall with a luggage trolley, which invariably everyone likes to pose with – as if all of us are Hogwarts bound. You can even go inside the train, and experience different films in different cabins. What’s more, there is always merchandise to be bought from the platform kiosk.

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The shooting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 began in February 2009, and the second installment was filmed back-to-back with Part 1. Five 32-tonne trucks worth of polystyrene were needed, to create all the rubble for the destruction of Hogwarts at the end of the final film. Daniel Radcliffe went through 160 pairs of glasses and around 70 wands during filming for the Harry Potter film series. Over 10 years, 588 sets were created at Leavesden Studios.

For details, log on to Wbstudiotour.co.uk