Behind the scenes: the Forbidden Forest

Home to all manner of creepy creatures, and occasionally playing host to inappropriately terrifying detentions, the set for the Forbidden Forest had to be nothing short of spectacular.

The Forbbiden Forest at night.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

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

Whether it is called the dark forest or the Forbidden Forest, Stuart Craig considers the forest in the Harry Potter films a character in itself. For Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first forest scenes were filmed on location in Black Park in Buckinghamshire, England. This was, according to Craig, ‘the affordable and expedient thing to do.’ However, for the scene where Harry encounters the centaur over the dead unicorn, the forest was a built set, and from then on, except for part of Goblet of Fire, the Forbidden Forest was a studio creation.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

‘The problem with real places is they’re full of things you don’t want,’ he states, ‘things that don’t contribute to the story. A manmade forest has more potential than a real one.’ Another consideration was the animal actors that often appeared in the forest scenes. For Philosopher’s Stone, the forest ground was covered in soft moss to provide stable footing for any animals and to protect the delicate footpads of the canine actor who played Hagrid’s dog, Fang.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

For Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the forest ‘became more fantastical. It was based on truth, but it was an exaggeration of truth, so the tree forms, the root forms, and even Aragog and the Acromantula in their lair were very real but their size was hugely exaggerated.’ Craig’s intention was that as one went farther into the forest, it got bigger in scale, more theatrical, and more creepy and frightening. ‘It’s relatively recognisably normal on the outside, and the deeper you penetrate it, the bigger it gets. More intimidating and mysterious. Even the mist gets thicker.’

Aragog's nest in the Forbidden Forest
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Craig was challenged once again for the forest scenes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. ‘We always think, how can we develop this forest idea? How can we make it more interesting this time?’ He looked back to Aragog’s lair in Chamber of Secrets for inspiration, particularly the sheltering trees’ massive roots. ‘So I took those roots and made them bigger again, rethinking the shape.’

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

He thought of mangrove swamps and how mangrove swamps and how mangrove trees are perched on their root system. ‘It almost looks as if the trunk is being supported by fingers, which was a great profile. Mangroves are relatively small, however, and so we made the trees twelve to fourteen feet around. Bigger even than the redwoods in Northern California.’ Again, the forest became darker and more sinister as it canopied that movie’s confrontation between Dolores Umbridge and the centaurs.

Hagrid Harry and Hermione deep in the Forbidden Forest
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 offered the biggest Forbidden Forest to date. Not only were the trees even larger than before, the ground cover was thicker and more verdant. By the time of the eighth film, the painted cyclorama that served as the backdrop to the scenes had grown to six hundred feet in length.

Harry Potter: Magical Places book cover

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