Behind the scenes: Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom

For a classroom whose occupants changed almost as regularly as a Boggart changes form, distinctive decoration was bound to be key.

Quirrell teaching in his classroom with a lizard
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Extracted from Harry Potter: Magical Places from the Films by Jody Revenson

Filming Professor Quirinus Quirrell’s Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone took place on location in the Warming Room in Lacock Abbey, which was the only room in the thirteenth-century building where the nuns were allowed to have a fire. However, Stuart Craig explains, ‘it is always easier to film on a studio set than take your cast and crew on location, so for Chamber of Secrets, we built the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.’ For this, the production designer did not re-create the Warming Room, but started anew, with two concepts in mind: the sculptural quality of the room and familiarity.

‘Though the decoration changes with each new professor of the Dark Arts, it’s nice that we’re in a familiar classroom.’

For Craig, the shape is of utmost importance.

Quirrell's classroom
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Craig’s design started with a blank sheet of paper.

‘It was one of those experiences where I started to doodle, and I came up with the idea of trusses, which would support huge beams of timber that themselves supported a very steeply pitched roof. It’s an attic room, in the roofline, and I thought this would be a welcome counterpoint to all the masonry we were seeing in so many other interiors.’

Craig continued developing the room with a master camera shot in mind.

‘I decided the set should be curved so you looked into a curving wall with the trusses radiating around it.’

Light was also an important consideration, so he integrated the huge windows on one side. Then he needed to connect the classroom to the professor’s office. ‘An attic space, almost by definition, is triangular, and so, in the two sloping sides of the triangle, the Gothic pulpit shape atop the stairs was a nice vertical accent.’ This fit Gilderoy Lockhart, the Dark Arts professor in Chamber of Secrets, perfectly.

‘This design created a stage-like setting that was ideal for Lockhart who – always the actor – was able to make dramatic entrances and exits.’

An illustration of Lockahart teaching his class
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Since the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor changes every year, Craig and Stephenie McMillan had the opportunity to redress the classroom regularly to reflect each successive teacher’s personality.

‘Professor Lockhart was incredibly vain,’ explains McMillan, ‘so he had lots of photographs and paintings of himself and all the books that he’d written arranged around the room.’ The photographs showcased Professor Lockhart in various extreme or sporting exploits, many of which became moving photographs. ‘For the largest portrait, which was about ten feet by five feet,’ McMillan continues, ‘we had the idea of him painting a portrait of himself. And we were hoping that, in a visual effect, Lockhart would walk out of the portrait into the class.’ In the end, Lockhart only exchanges a wink with his painted double.

McMillan found Professor Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban a bit difficult to pin down. She decided to give him the look of a true naturalist, ‘so we put in things that he might have found on his travels, which included lots of skulls under glass domes.’ McMillan was also tasked with specific props called for by the script—such as the record player, the projector system, and the Boggart-containing cabinet. ‘We looked at French furniture, specifically in the Art Nouveau style. The wardrobe was an amalgam of the curving, flowing Art Nouveau lines, but we made them chunkier than they should have been to be more threatening.’ The set dressing for Professor Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came much easier for her. ‘Of course, because of his glass eye, we took the theme of lenses, so everything in his room had to do with optical things, which we took to an extreme with huge hanging devices.’

Moody's empty Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

McMillan found Professor Dolores Umbridge, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, ‘a great relief. She actually didn’t teach at all. So we had the room completely bare of any extra props except for these books that come down magically onto the desks. No decoration at all in the room. And so when you went up the stairs and saw her office it was a real shock.’

In addition to the idiosyncratically decorative needs of each professor, McMillan also provided schoolroom basics. Each class had a pivoting blackboard, to which McMillan added her own bit of magic: a horizontal pair of boots at the bottom that acted as the ‘feet’. Eighteen double desks in each class gave enough room to house thirty-six students – for a time. As the actors grew, admits Stuart Craig, ‘We had to extend their beds and their little school desks and chairs, too. They outgrew them literally and quite quickly.’

Harry Potter: Magical Places book cover

Extracted from
‘Harry Potter: Magical Places from the films'