The Wizarding World of Harry's Potter Diagon Alley opened to the public on July 8, 2014. It was Universal Orlando's second addition to the themed area dedicated entirely to The Boy Who Lived. This vast expansion planned on being bigger and better than the original concept of Hogsmeade which included sweet shops, The Three Broomsticks pub, and the Hogwarts castle itself.
The theme park's Diagon Alley section had a lot to live up to. But unlike the films, the parks didn't have the luxury of adding in details with green screens and CGI effects. This meant that each detail had to be expertly created and designed. No stone was left unturned—literally. The design team had to make sure that each brick, plant, and window held an authentic feel to the Wizarding World. Suffice to say, the making of Diagon Alley wasn't without its struggles, but ultimately, the payoff was massive.
Think you know everything there is to know about Harry Potter? Check out these 10 facts that even Potterheads don't know about the making of Diagon Alley in Universal Studios.
10 Storyboards Took Two Years
Before construction could even begin on rides like Escape From Gringotts, Universal writers had to come up with a storyline. The idea was to bring riders on a personal journey through Gringotts with a completely immersive experience that would involve guests interacting directly with the cast of Harry Potter. Storyboards and ideas took a full two years before Universal creatives were happy with the ride's story. After that, it was time to bring the actors back to film on more piece for Harry Potter.
9 The Actors Reunited To Make The Ride
The last day that the main cast filmed on set for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two was on June 12, 2010. However, it wouldn't be the last day they would have to wear the costumes of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The cast ended up getting back together to film a few more Harry Potter scenes for the ride Escape From Gringotts. The ride's storyline follows the one from the film almost exactly. Except for this time, special appearances from Bill Weasley, Bellatrix, and Voldemort were required. Rupert Grint once stated that he "had a feeling" that it wouldn't be the last he would film for Harry Potter.
8 They Had To Rough Up The Trains
In order to make it look as though the Hogwarts Express had spent decades upon decades taking students to and from Kings Cross station, it was important to give the vehicle a rough exterior. The train was constructed by a facility in Switzerland, who was designed the task of bringing a real-life Hogwarts Express to its larger-than-life glory.
But before the train could be polished and shipped off to Orlando, the designers felt it was necessary to add dents, scratches, and even rust to the train cars. So, if the massive steam engine train looks a bit decrepit when you visit it at the parts, that's the way the park's designers wanted it. This weathered design was incorporated into many aspects of the park, including the building, the signage, and even the Universal Orlando cast's wardrobe.
7 Stuart Craig Worked On the Films And The Parks
Norman Stuart Craig is the production designer who worked on set for the Harry Potter films since day one. At the request of J.K. Rowling herself, Craig was brought on board to the Universal design team to help flesh out the layout for Diagon Alley.
Rowling went on to say in an interview with Pottercast, "The key thing for me was that, if there was to be a theme park, that Stuart Craig … would be involved. … More than involved, that he would pretty much design it. Because I love the look of the films; they really mirror what’s been in my imagination for all these years."
6 The Interactive Wands
Witches and wizards who visit Universal's Diagon Alley will quickly realize that the wands for sale in Ollivanders and Gregoravitches are more than just souvenirs. Throughout the park, guests can actually use their wands in interactive window displays that will make lights flicker, water spouts turn on, or make objects move. These interactive and were a new concept brought along with Diagon Alley and involve some pretty magical technology. The tips on the ends of the wands reflect infrared light that comes from the camera lights attached behind these locations. The reflective tips work with these cameras to track the light, which allows for a computer program to ensure the spell is cast correctly.
5 Platform 9 3/4
Universal's creative team knew they wanted to bring the magic of the wizarding world in every aspect people see in the films. One of their biggest challenges involved coming up with a way to have guests leave Kings Cross and enter Platform 9 3/4 through a brick wall. They were able to come up with a solution to this concept by using an old technique called Pepper's Ghost. It involves using a sheet of glass to separate those walking towards the walls between Platforms 9 and 10 and those watching. The glass, along with mirrors and sound effects gives the illusion that guests are actually disappearing into the platform. In reality, you are just walking behind a sheet of class in a carefully laid out zig-zag section in the ride's queue.
4 The Streets
When you first enter the street of Diagon Alley, you will be quick to notice the streets narrow pathway. Despite the fact that the Harry Potter themed sections have been the most popular areas of the Universal parks, the design team specifically planned for them to be this small. They wanted guests to have the real, ultimate experience, which means being smashed into the streets of Diagon Alley like sardines. Diagon Alley in the films was loosely based off of Cecil Court in London, which is a quaint pedestrian-only street that lines up various market shops. And if you look at the films, you will notice that Diagon Alley is a one-lane street that is packed with witches and wizards. Universal guests couldn't ask a more realistic experience.
3 The Screens
The screens that display the footage for the Gringotts ride is over 17,000 square feet! The screens reach a max peak of 45-feet in heights and some sections being over 50 feet long. The technology used for this ride had to be redesigned to fit the grand scale. Multiple high-definition projectors had to be used to cast the footage onto this massive screen.
2 Hidden Easter Eggs
There are hidden easter eggs that pay tribute to the books and the film throughout the park. However, incorporating these bits of trivia throughout the park took careful planning and brand-new execution. Many concepts like the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, which was used by Harry to sneak into Draco Malfoy’s train compartment in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince didn't actually have to be created for the films. But if you look upstairs in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, you can see it being used.
Some other hidden treasures through the park include a creeping Kreacher in the windows Grimmauld Place outside on the London streets, Moaning Myrtle's voice playing in the women's bathrooms stalls, and even Luna's Crumple-Horned Snorkack can be seen in the Magical Menagerie store.
1 Harry and Hermione's Voices On The Train
On the Hogwarts Express ride, you might notice Harry, Ron, and Hermione's silhouettes appear outside of the carriage doors. It doesn't go unnoticed that the voices of Harry, and especially Hermione, are not those of the actors from the film. So what happened? The reason Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson didn't lend their voice to the latest ride is simply that they wanted to draw a line. Radcliffe specifically said in an interview with The Daily Beast,
“A while ago, they asked me to do more stuff for the theme park, and that was my moment to try and draw a line because that theme park is going to keep expanding and keep going to more countries, and there’s going to come to a point where I’m going to be 30 years old, and if I was still doing that then, that would be a huge problem.”