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Bringing Harry Potter's World to Life

Meet the magician behind the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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  • Hogsmeade at Wizarding World, Universal Studios, Hollywood, Calif., image
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    An artist's concept rendering of Hogsmeade Village inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Hollywood, Calif., image
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    The Flight of the Hippogriff ride at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Madam Puddifoots at Wizarding World, Hollywood, Calif., image
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    Madam Puddifoot's, a tea shop in Hogsmeade, inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter at night, Hollywood, Calif., image
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    A night view of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Trained as an architect in Ireland, Alan Gilmore found his calling as a film art director, working on Notting Hill, The Bourne Ultimatum, X-Men: First Class, World War Z, and several movies based on the Harry Potter book series. Gilmore shares what it's like to create the details of this new theme park inside Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, opening April 7.

How did you first get involved with Harry Potter?
I was hired as an art director on several of the films, helping to develop the visual aesthetic. I designed parts of the schools, stadiums, buildings―huge architectural challenges.

What is your role in creating Wizarding World?
As art director, my job is to liaise with all sorts of amazing artists to bring [author] J.K. Rowling's world to life. Many of my Harry Potter film colleagues traveled to L.A. to help develop the overall aesthetic, the colors, the textures. The same people who "painted" the movie "painted" the theme park, which makes it incredibly authentic.

What was challenging about translating Harry Potter for a theme park?
When you're making a movie, you're often just constructing a theater set, but when you're building a whole world, you have to create real architecture with an inside and an outside. It has to look perfect from every angle so that you never lose the sense of immersion.

What are you particularly proud of?
The quality of the buildings and the sense of space. Everything looks so old, and it's all snow covered, because Hogsmeade [in the Harry Potter books, the only village in the U.K. populated solely by magical beings] is located way up in the Scottish highlands. You really feel like you've traveled somewhere.

Tell me about Hogsmeade.
It's the local village, where students of Hogwarts [the wizarding school] hang out. We've created the Three Broomsticks restaurant inside a huge medieval building that includes the Hog's Head pub, which serves drinks and [kid-friendly] butterbeer. That's where some of the darker characters―myself included―hang out. There's also the Owl Post, where you can send a real letter postmarked from Hogsmeade. And of course fantastic shops like Honeydukes, which sells chocolate frogs and Every Flavour Beans, and Dervish and Banges, where you can buy stationery, school robes, and Quidditch brooms.

Can visitors buy a magic wand?
Yes. At Ollivanders, the wand keepers actually perform a test to discover which wand is suitable for you. Once you've got the right wand, you can perform magic―spells that light the lamps or make something levitate―at hidden areas throughout town. We've created a really cool, quirky magic map to help you.

Other magic in the park?
You might catch the shadow of an owl out of the corner of your eye, or spy a creature peering out of a shop window. Magic is everywhere, but it's all very subliminal.

Your favorite place in the park?
Hogwarts. Building a magical castle in Los Angeles was such a unique experience. It was designed to impress, and it just looms above you. The "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride is located inside, and there's an amazing queue through the castle. The ride itself is in 3-D, and it's incredibly detailed. You really feel like you're flying.

Other don't-miss rides?
Hagrid the groundskeeper has a family rollercoaster called "Flight of the Hippogriff." It's a "training flight" that teaches kids how to ride the Hippogriff, which is a half-horse, half-eagle creature. It's something all Hogwarts students must learn to do.

Any sightings of He Who Must Not Be Named?
That's for visitors to find out.

Do you believe in magic?
Absolutely. Anybody who comes here will too.

Photography by Universal Studios, except night view by Universal Studios Hollywood.

This article was first published in January 2016. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.