In the weeks leading up to the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” fans were in a frenzy, trying to figure out just how much of the book would make the first film, which scenes would delight and disappoint, and what characters might not return ever again. And trying to get the tight-lipped folks in the Potter camp to discuss those key points was a bit of a struggle. However, now that the film has opened, MTV News has enlisted the expertise of longtime Potter production designer Stuart Craig for a few behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Much has been said of the production moving away from Hogwarts and out on multiple locations, which Craig described as a “movie on the run.”
“We made a very different kind of film, which was shot a great deal on location. We traveled quite far, we built sets, and they spend a lot of time in a forest,” he explained. “We built forest sets and integrated them into the real forests, so there were challenges there, as you might imagine.”
Another one of the production’s major challenges — and accomplishments — was shooting the sequence in which Harry retrieves the Sword of Gryffindor at the bottom of a frozen lake.
“There was a really demanding, complicated special-effects requirement there to do the ice,” Craig said. “I think that all works remarkably quite well, actually. Harry breaking the ice, diving in and then subsequently strangled by the Horcrux around his neck and is struggling and can’t get up quickly because of the ice above him. It’s good stuff.”
Which begs the question: How did Craig and his team pull off that scene, and what do they use to make the ice look so real?
“As always, well, as nearly always, there’s more than one solution. The camera on top, looking from the outside down on it. It’s big, thick sheets of Plexiglass with frosty texture on top of that,” he revealed.
“When we’re underneath, it’s actually an area of wax which floats on top of the water. And wax makes very effective ice. They’re tried and tested movie techniques; there are a lot. You could write a book one day, a guidebook, to the very movie techniques — frost on window panes with some Epsom salts and brown nails.”
One of the great pleasures in chatting with Craig, whose credits outside the world of Harry Potter include “Ghandi,” “The English Patient” and “Notting Hill,” is the fact that he has such an informed perspective on the inner-workings of the industry; specifically, how advanced film-making technology is now.
“The great thing about movies these days is that you can fix everything,” he said. “I have to give a talk at a film festival early next month, and I’ve just been looking at films that I’ve done in the past. In particular, ’Ghandi,’ years ago in India. The thing then was: If sometimes there was a compromise, it was filmed and it was there, locked. Forever. You look at the movie 20 years later, and there it would be.
“These days, with visual effects able to do so much, you can do face replacement, you can put Dan Radcliffe’s head on somebody else’s body.
There’s nothing they can’t do, it seems. I mean, at a cost, it’s not cheap, so terrible things seem to get fixed, which is very reassuring,” he added, chuckling.
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