The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios Hollywood
In early 2012, a very small team, myself included, were tasked to produce design intents for two parks simultaneously. The two projects were The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the Japan and Hollywood Universal Studios Park locations.
While working as a consultant for the Universal Creative office in Orlando, I just wrapped up development of the Nickelodeon SpongeBob StorePants retail store for Universal Studios Florida and was then asked to participate in the development of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for both Hollywood and Japan in February 2012. The scope of my involvement with our small team of three, was to develop both models for Universal Studios Japan and Hollywood of the entire Harry Potter site. In addition to the 3D computer-based models, I was also producing CAD drawings for many of the various structures. Our deliverables were to include both park models and CAD drawing packages for Universal executive review. This was a “blue-sky” master planning exercise, a design-intent package developed to evaluate both properties and the proposed integration within the parks to determine what existing structures needed to be demolished and what could remain. This was a process that took many weeks with some very long hours to meet the aggressive schedule.
The gateway entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood during an early opening in March 2016. The images just below show the integration of new The Simpsons area, just left of the gateway, which I went on to develop shortly after master plan for the Harry Potter site was approved. The Three Broomsticks restaurant shares the same facility building with The Simpsons food and dining on the opposite side.
Although we had a starting point by basing the projects on the existing Orlando Florida location, both of the locations had many differences in land available, adjacent structures, capacity requirements, operational conditions and surrounding elements that challenged the work to get the additions in place. Although a 3D model of the Orlando location was developed, it couldn’t be used for the new locations because it couldn’t be modified easily for changes so new 3D models were produced. Working projects into existing parks takes a great deal of research and reliance on documentation of the current and projected conditions. It takes a committed and experienced team to understand the conditions you can adjust and what line items need to be untouched in the process. In many cases, orientation of buildings needed to be adjusted to allow for clearances and landscape screening of adjacent structures unfit to effectively immerse the guests within the intellectual property.
Above: Before & During images of the site show the the park prior to demolition of existing structures and mid-construction phase.
In addition to the various differences of the buildings we developed compared to the Orlando location, the survey data was critical to develop the topography in 3D to form what the sight-line conditions would be when built. The process to develop the model with varied elevation changes was combining the existing conditions of the area and adding the new changes that support the new facilities and associated property. Such areas included the site for the Flying Hippogriff coaster, the winding exterior queue line for the Forbidden Journey, and the gradual raise from the main entry to the castle. With the topography defined, this provided the platform to determine placement for the building foundations, retaining walls, landscape, boundary features and drainage considerations.
While we had our production resources involved from Warner Bros. and the film’s Production Designer Stuart Craig, we also had to implement the traditionally-drawn hand work of the set designs provided by the studio into CAD drawings.
The secondary guest path was developed to route guests out of the site and toward the Tram Tour hub and Starway to the lower areas of the park. This path is also a different feature than Orlando as it conforms the backside of the shops and restaurants due to the hillside limitations. While we worked in CAD to define the path, the modeling process also enabled us to determine landscape considerations sight-lines. Currently the new trees throughout the property are very thin but will fill many of the voids as they mature.
Above: Seven views of the area developed for the secondary guest passage that extends from the castle overflow queue area, past the Three Broomsticks dining patio and to the Tram Tour hub and The Simpsons USA.
What made things a challenge was having the Japan documentation, designs, measurements and models all in metric while the Hollywood project was produced in the Imperial standard. The Japan location also had regional differences in construction code, requiring alternate interior clearances to meet the capacity for Japanese equipment and guest traffic flow standards. This wasn’t a matter of just changing call-out notations, as the drawings and models both needed to reflect different dimensional impacts. Additionally, Japan had a large lake and parking area to work around while Hollywood’s location was set on a hillside where many structures also existed. Dining areas, queue lines, retail stores, restrooms and area development for both locations varied tremendously in our work to integrate both into existing parks in two different continents. There were a lot of long hours committed among our small team lasting weeks just among three of us.
In the process, we developed a working approach that made us work efficiently in AutoCAD using xrefs and drawing standards as we progressed with the new drawings. This simplified our activity for the many AutoCAD drawings we produced but modeling both parks left me quite occupied during the process producing variations on Hogwarts castle, the Hogsmeade Village and the Hippogriff roller-coaster. These components all had to be worked into new topography which also had to be represented in the models and drawings to advance the work for approval and distribution to project teams in the field.
Developing the Hippogriff roller-coaster area for Hollywood & Japan took quite a bit of time to produce. In modeling the topography, the queue line pathway, track structural columns, rock work and surrounding structures, they all needed to be defined accurately to provide for proper egress and overhead clearances where the path is routed at various points under the track and over varied elevations.
In facing tight deadlines, you are almost always impacted with the surprises of Murphy’s law. Throughout our process of work, we would periodically print our progress decks finding xrefs missing or off-mark or line-weights altered from sheet to sheet. We had brief meetings to get back in sync and make adjustments to printer and file settings, but these were all minimal complications in the scope of things. We worked through them on our own quickly even in late evenings with no access to IT personnel. We even took the time to red-line all of our own work in the fast-paced process. We managed to meet the schedule for both projects and were relieved that the recipient teams were beyond satisfied with all the information we managed to include. We had a great work ethic and dedication to achieve what we needed for each review period.
While the Japan location opened following our work just-over two years later in 2014, the Hollywood site had much more involved to get built. For those guests that decide to take the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, you will find the familiar castle just within view in the distance.
Hogwarts Castle can be seen from Riverside Drive on the hillside just forward of the Warner Bros. studio. (Photo by Josh Schwartz)
It was privilege working on the two locations. Walking the model virtually in 2012 and then in real-life four years later, the satisfying feeling you get is only completed when the guests are populating the space smiling, experiencing it with their families and making memories with pictures and purchases of what the site has to offer.
As with all projects, there is also a great appreciation for those you work with to develop properties under challenging circumstances. For this location, there were many things complicating the project but in the end we managed to give the guests and residents in Hollywood a chance to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a slightly different setting. Congratulations to the entire project team on the design and construction.