Friday, August 13, 2010

Return to Hogwarts

"Oh you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see, I'll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me."

The Hogwarts sorting hat; magical sentient artefact, previous property of Godric Gryffindor and currently being used to sort random visitors into school houses at "Harry Potter: the Exhibition" at the Ontario Science Museum in Toronto. The exhibit consists of items used in the Harry Potter movies and has been on tour across North America. However, this description does not do it justice for it is far more fascinating than you would expect to find a close-up view of a bunch of stage props.

For instance, did you know Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was allergic to the original metal his glasses were made from and came out in a rash? Or that Hagrid's extreme height was not done by clever camera angles but the actor was put on stilts? Hagrid's costume is on display and dwarfs everyone in the room. Each actor also had to have six wands; three hard version and three made of rubber for stunts.

The making of a soft, unbreakable version of a prop was common practice and many items had doubles, including the goblet of fire and the crystal balls for divination. This second item initially caused problems since a rubber crystal orb was no more than a child's ball and it bounced higher and higher as it rolled down the stairs; not at all the effect the irate Hermione was trying for when she pushed it!

Many of the items on display were particularly fun to get up close to. In one of the areas dedicated to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classrooms (multiple version of these due to Dumbledore's inability to hire anyone who wasn't working for Voldemort/incompetent/a bitey furry/working for Voldemort/wanting to work for Voldemort/partially working for Voldemort or indeed, working for Voldemort) there was the rattling wardrobe that contained the boggart in book three, along with the gigantic jack-in-the-box that Parvati 'riddikules' her boggart into.

Opposite Lupin's classroom set, Dolores Umbridge's pink office of hell was shown complete with gambling (though mercifully stationary) kitten plates. Something I had not consciously noticed in the movie was that the shade of pink Umbridge was decked out in gets steadily harder throughout the film to reflect her growing unpleasantness.

In the face of such candy coloured evil, I went to try my hand at scoring with a quaffle. Several of the displays were interactive, from the initial liaison with the sorting hat to a lamp-lit entrance through Hogsmead station. There was also the chance to pull up a mandrake and to sit on Hagrid's giant chair.

One of the most surprising elements I saw were models of the CGI creations in the movies. Dobby, Kreature, the centaurs, Buckbeak the hippogriff, the giant spidery acromantulas and the head of the Hungarian Horntail were all made at a life-size scale. Apparently, scanning the image into the CGI works best on 1:1 detail and the presence of the models on the sets helps both the actors and the lighting directors. Although stationary in the exhibit, Buckbeak's replica actually could move and follow actors around with its eyes. My audio guide assured me this made him popular on the sets. I edged away and went to check out the mandrakes.

These baby-faced plants are not CGI but animatronic, although the ones you get to play with did not move. The squirming plants went over very well with the school children actors and led to a problem with ensuring they were collected in after filming.

Just down from the gigantic spider was a model of the petrified Colin Creevey. This one didn't move (since that would defy the point) and I had always assumed the actor had just been threatened with something enough to freeze him for the duration of the scene. It would seem nothing short of an actual basilisk was scary enough so a task of over two months was undertaken to create the figure. For the exhibit, they had moved his hands down from his face slightly - a slow and painful task on a statue designed to be rigid!

Upon emerging from the exhibit we found a machine that allowed you to send free electronic postcards of scenes from the museum. It occurred to me that I had not explained to my advisor why I was missing the group meeting that day....

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