I can take or leave Harry Potter. I never read all the HP books, and movie-wise I will freely admit to preferring Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fortunately my partner ignored all of this and booked tickets for all three of us to go to The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio Tour.
At some point after a butter beer ice cream – it may have been when I realised that there actually was a road-worthy triple-decker bus constructed for the film – the thousands of other visitors started to fade away from my concentration and I became mesmerised by the sheer forces of creativity and persistence. I think the knowledge that CGI exists had made me complacent about the artistic and creative skills required for the films. I was spellbound by the endless concept sketches, the models that gradually changed from 2D blueprints to small white card models through to a huge Hogwarts perfect in every tiny detail. Dozens of hats made by Philip Treacey, every last detail of every last object realised from a paragraph in a book or imagined and conceived into reality. Back home, I remarked that I wished I’d been able to find a book on the art of the film in the gift shop. The next day my partner presented me with a huge hardback stuffed with everything I’d seen and more.
So many things are making creative sense now. After looking at hundreds of images over the last 24 hours I am learning about narrative. An image can work just on its own, but it can also work as part of a sequence, or it can work as part of an archive. There’s a skill involved in balancing fantasy and reality, in grounding the imaginary in the everyday. Stuart Craig, the production designer, talks about the comfort of working from familiar sets “as long as you deliver the new stuff when you need to. And the spectacle when you need to.” (p9). This rang true for me – my passion for working with the everyday, but with a fresh perspective. He also talks about the need for simplicity in building a set, how one or two strong ideas make for a stronger set. “”The real world is always cluttered,” Craig says. “And clutter is not good for telling a story in a theatrical way. You need to get rid of whatever’s extraneous and just keep it simple.”” (p13) . I need to pay attention to every element in my images, to make sure that everything that’s included is necessary and part of telling the story. I feel as if the Narrative part of Context & Narrative has just swum into focus.
The Art of Harry Potter by Marc Sumerak, Titan Books 2017.