Behind the scenes: Centaurs

Unlike the loathsome Professor Umbridge, the creature designers of the Harry Potter films never considered these star-gazers to be half-breeds.

A Centaur side on
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Extracted from Harry Potter: The Creature Vault by Jody Revenson

Centaurs are a species of creature that unites human and equine aspects. Harry Potter meets the centaur Firenze in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while he is serving detention in the Forbidden Forest. When Harry encounters Voldemort feeding from a unicorn, Firenze saves him from the Dark Lord’s attack.

Centaurs also play a key role in the comeuppance of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When Harry and Hermione Granger tell Umbridge to follow them into the forest to see Dumbledore’s Army’s ‘secret weapon,’ they encounter a herd of centaurs, led by Bane. Umbridge’s prejudice against the creatures leads to a heated exchange, and the centaurs drag her away into the depths of the forest.

The creature designers never considered centaurs to be half-breeds (as Dolores Umbridge did). In their early research of the mythological beings, they noted that ancient Greek and Roman artists had essentially stacked the top half of a man onto the body of a horse when portraying the creature. In a reverse of this traditional rendering, the designers conceived the centaurs not as a humanised horse, but as an animalised human.

The centaurs’ faces in the films are long, with a broader forehead, flatter cheeks, nose, and jawline, and eyes set farther apart than a human’s. Instead of skin, the horse’s pelt and colouration envelop the entire creature, not just the bottom half. Pointed ears are set high up on the head.

Firenze in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was computer-generated, but the process changed for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. To depict Bane and Magorian, the creature shop created two full-size models—called maquettes—of the centaurs that were used for cyber scanning into the computer. The maquettes were also placed in the forest set for lighting reference and to give the actors an ‘eyeline’ to follow to the creatures.

A portrait of a Cebt
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter: The Creature Vault book cover

Extracted from
'Harry Potter: The Creature Vault'