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Behind the scenes: the Basilisk

Not content with giving us just one of the creepiest creatures in the history of literature (we’re looking at you, Aragog), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets also brought us the horrifying Basilisk.

A drawing of the giant snake creature called the Basilisk.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Extracted from Harry Potter: The Creature Vault by Jody Revenson
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The titular location of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets contains a thousand-year- old snake – the Basilisk, originally under the control of Salazar Slytherin. In the years since the Basilisk’s containment, only one student has been able to command it: Tom Riddle. When the Basilisk is released once more during the events of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it is up to Harry to slay the beast and save the school.

The Basilisk that lives deep below Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has a dragon-shaped head that literally heightens its exaggerated reptilian body. Bony, thorny, and a little slimy, the Basilisk was fully intended to be brought to life inside a computer. Visual development research included observation of live creatures, including an eight-foot-long Burmese python named Doris.

A model was produced to be cyberscanned, but there was also a need for a prop of the Basilisk’s shed skin to lie in the Chamber, which meant a model of the snake was needed at full scale, and so the creature shop constructed the Basilisk’s first forty feet of discarded snakeskin in urethane rubber.

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It then became logical that Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) would need a full-size practical Basilisk mouth to fight against in the final battle scene in Chamber of Secrets. The creature shop was happy to comply, but realised that they should sculpt more than just the teeth and the inside of the mouth; they needed to sculpt the entire head, which would lessen the amount of CG shots needed.

The filmmakers agreed, and then asked if the sculpt could extend to the neck. And if the jaw could be made to open and if the mouth could move up and down. And if the Basilisk’s nose could move when it is stabbed. And if its eyes and eyelids could move even after it is blinded. And if its fangs could hinge backward, as any venomous snake’s does, so that it could close its mouth. And so, in addition to the full-size model of the shed snakeskin, another full-size model became a practical Basilisk that took its place on the Chamber of Secrets set. The model used Aquatronics, employed to enhance the Basilisk’s smooth glides and mouth movements; cable controls retracted its fangs.

Creating the neck and body of the practical Basilisk seemed less than practical at first. The creature’s foam latex exterior skin would need to be laid over a tubular or hexagonal structure with long sides made of aluminium to ensure that the design didn’t become too heavy or unwieldy. This could only be accomplished by machine work that would be complicated and laborious. Or so they thought. In a casual remark, one of the creature shop crew suggested using ladders, which became a fortuitous solution.

The aluminium ladders were already strong, and were strengthened even more by modifications made to place them under the Basilisk skin. They were also light in weight, an important quality as the creature would be flailing about the set and battling with the series’ titular hero.

Harry kills the Basilisk
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter: The Creature Vault book cover

Extracted from
'Harry Potter: The Creature Vault'