The past seven months have seen nothing but silence from the Universal Studios crew entrusted to re-create J.K. Rowling's magical otherworld for the soon-to-be-opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. But after much planning and fast-moving production, Hogwarts Castle can at last be seen rising high above the construction site's walls.
Last week, reporters were allowed in to get a sneak peek of the theme park and speak with Universal Creative President Mark Woodbury and park art director Alan Gilmore about what fans can expect when entering the world of Hogwarts.
"We've done some pretty amazing things over time, but this is at a level that just exceeds even our wildest expectations," Woodbury said.
Universal has arguably gone the farthest in re-creating what has, up until now, only been a fantasy universe. Gilmore, who worked as art director on several of the "Harry Potter" films, described the process as a kind of building-block system: First, the novels created the world of Harry and magic, then the films showed fans that world, and now Wizarding World will allow people to actively be a part of it.
To ensure the accuracy of the Hogwarts world, which devoted fans have undoubtedly come to know well, Universal worked hand-in-hand with the production department on the film sets to make sure everything matched up between the two. Since the appearance of Hogwarts evolved over the course of the films, the looming structure that stands over Wizarding World is closest to what will appear in the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" films.
Woodbury also spoke of the brand-new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, a main attraction of the new park. Housed inside the castle, guests will follow a path through many of the major rooms from the books until they make it to the Room of Requirement. There, they will be swept away by an "enchanted bench" to the ride portion of the attraction.
And if the ride portion is a success, that could be a big "game changer," as Woodbury described it. No one involved in the creation of the ride would reveal many of the technical details of Forbidden Journey, but they will say that the ride has somehow combined the use of robotic-arm technology with 3-D visuals (featuring the actual "Harry Potter" cast and filmed specifically for the ride) to bring fans through some of the most beloved moments from the seven novels. Fans can look forward to fighting off a dragon, joining a Quidditch match and flying around Hogwarts, just as was advertised in the Wizarding World Super Bowl spot.
And the fans have nothing on the park's creators when it comes to anticipation and excitement: "This has been, for me, the best job of my life so far. It's been an amazing, amazing job," Gilmore said. "To really, as Mark says, make a game changer — every detail, every space, people are just going to be so excited when they walk in here. You just can't stop looking at everything. It's all amazing."
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