Behind the scenes: Gringotts

From Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley to breaking in and escaping on a dragon, Gringotts Wizarding Bank played host to some very important moments.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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

Hagrid takes Harry to Gringotts Wizarding Bank in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to get money to purchase supplies for Harry’s first year at Hogwarts. Run by goblins, Gringotts is, above ground, an impressive, three-story building. Yet the marbled main hall sits atop many strata of underground vaults, the oldest and most protected of which are at the deepest level. The vaults are accessed via twisting tracks travelled by small carts. Stuart Craig wanted Gringotts to exemplify the best attributes of a bank. ‘Banks are traditionally symbols of stability,’ he explains. ‘That is the intention in bank architecture – to convey a feeling of reassurance.’

For Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the filmmakers filmed in a real-life location, Australia House, which is the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London. Australia House’s Beaux Arts interior gave Craig the proportions he desired, which contrasted perfectly with its inhabitants. ‘Everything should conspire to make the goblins look very small and to make the bank look – as banks do – dignified, solid, and important,’ he says. ‘So our banking hall, like others, is made of marble, with big marble columns.’

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Desks were created to line the hall, as well as ledgers, quills, and metal coins: Knuts, Sickles, and Galleons, which too frequently disappeared from the set. The lower vaults were built in the studio and visually extended with matte paintings and special effects. The intricate mechanism that clicks and shifts while unlocking the door to vault 687 in Philosopher’s Stone and to the Lestrange vault in Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was a practical effect crafted by Mark Bullimore, who did the same for the snake-locked door to the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry returns to Gringotts with Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the goblin Griphook in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in an effort to retrieve a Horcrux from the Lestrange vault, during which the bank is damaged by an escaping dragon. ‘It smashes out of its pen, smashes through the top of a cave hundreds of feet above, smashes through the banking hall, and up through the glass roof. We obviously could not go back to Australia House,’ says Craig with a smile, and so the bank was duplicated at Leavesden Studios. For this iteration, the marble columns and floor were constructed using paper. ‘We had quite a considerable faux-marble-making factory,’ he says, which worked like oil on water – literally. To make marble paper, oil paint is swirled on top of a large, square, water-filled container, then special paper is placed on top. ‘As you pull the paper up, the oil paint that sticks to it looks very like swirly marble. All that’s needed is a bit of finishing brushwork,’ Craig explains.

Dragon escaping Gringotts
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

The design team also utilised large digital printers that made copies of the marbleised paper at widths up to twelve feet. The chandeliers, each with a twelve-foot diameter, were strung with thousands of injection-molded ‘crystals,’ which were painstakingly assembled following a precise order. However, he admits, ‘They were supposed to measure sixteen feet from top to bottom. We made the bottom half physically and then the top half was a computer-generated addition.’ The bank tellers’ props of scales and desks were brought out of storage, with the desks receiving a new paint job and a slightly refined redesign. This time around, the original metal coins were made in plastic and glued together in stacks.

Harry Potter: Magical Places book cover

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