The Harry Potter Great Hall Props That Were Surprisingly Real

"Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts" is streaming on HBO Max, and it has renewed interest in the making of the "Harry Potter" films. Back in 2009, there was a documentary called "Creating the World of Harry Potter: The Magic Begins," where a surprising bit of info about the first film was revealed – info that the reunion elaborated on. In the documentary, we learn a lot of the set was real, something that often makes a big difference when you're working with child actors. In an age where CGI is the norm (even back in 2001 when "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" came out), some things were just too important to not be practical. That included things like building the Great Hall to match the book's description as close as possible. 

Around the 41 minute mark in the documentary, we learn that the floating candles in the first film weren't CGI at all. Director Chris Columbus says: 

"We built a lot of fire into the Great Hall so it just had this sense of warmth and magic. However, the floating candlesticks were a bit of a problem because we decided to do them practically as opposed to creating them in a CGI environment. So we placed hundreds of floating candles above tables with tiny strings, and all of those candles had to be lit before each take, and all of them were on a sort of pulley system where they moved up and down so they felt like they were floating ... when we did the shot where we craned down through all of these floating candles and you couldn't see the strings, everyone in the screening room applauded that day. It was just stunning."

Fire on a String

In the reunion special, we learn that some of those candles didn't hold up very well. Daniel Radcliffe, who played the titular Harry, said, "One of my favorite moments on set ever is the moment when the floating candles started burning through the ropes that tied them to the ceiling and just started falling around The Great Hall." Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger, added, "Hundreds of real candles that were really lit, on fishing line, from the ceiling!" 

No one seems to have been injured by the falling candles, though it is likely there is no way this practical approach would happen today. In a way, it's safer, but it's also sad. Just think about what it must have been like for those kids, walking in to see that room. If you've ever been on the "Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter," you can sort of get a sense of what that was like. I was there during a set visit years ago, and it was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed. It was all dressed up for Halloween as well, and let me tell you, I reverted back to my childhood in seconds. (Ignore the fact that I read the books as an adult.) 

"Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts" is currently streaming on HBO Max.