From Deathday party hosting to inanimate object pelting, the Hogwarts Ghosts gave us some of the fondest memories of the Harry Potter series. But how do you bring these enigmatic beings to the big screen?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Extracted from Harry Potter: The Character Vault by Jody Revenson
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Sir Nicholas De Mimsy-Porpington, aka Nearly Headless Nick

Judianna Makovsky was glad that the filming of the ghosts of Hogwarts for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone wasn’t scheduled until near the very end of the movie. ‘It took us about nine months to figure out how to do them,’ she recalls.

‘They needed to be unusual, and they also needed to work for Robert Legato,’ the visual effects supervisor for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. ‘Trying to find the right material that would work was a very long process.’ Makovsky alludes to several historical eras for the ghosts of Hogwarts: late Renaissance for the Grey Lady, Baroque/Rococo for the Bloody Baron, and generic monk for the Fat Friar. Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, played by actor John Cleese, straddles the border between Elizabethan and Jacobean-era clothing, wearing a doublet, breeches, and a thin ruff that encircles the ‘nearly headlessness’ of the character.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much during a costume fitting,’ Makovsky states. ‘And John Cleese let me go to town. He was willing to wear it all, including some ridiculous pumpkin hose.’ Makovsky eventually found a mesh fabric for all the ghosts that had copper wire embedded in it so it was moldable, and would keep its shape.

‘I didn’t want them to look sheer, like your traditional ghosts with chiffon waving all over the place. We’ve seen that before. I wanted it to be real clothes from a real period.’ This worked for Robert Legato, who also found working with John Cleese ‘a riot. He was only with my team for one day, so we worked hard to get all our jokes right with him.’

Legato acknowledges that ghosts have been seen on-screen before, ‘about a million times. So the challenge is how do you shoot a ghost these days and make it better than earlier ones?’ In post-production, the ghosts were given a digital glow and trails of ghostly matter.

Moaning Myrtle

Moaning Myrtle, a dead student who haunts the girls’ bathroom in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and visits Harry Potter in the Prefects’ bathroom in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is played by the distinctively voiced actress Shirley Henderson, who describes Myrtle’s sound as ‘wounded. I did a lot of crying during the scenes and that aided that kind of gurgly quality I was trying to produce — as if she was choking on water all the time.’

Myrtle’s school robes harken back to a time fifty years before present day events, made in a rough material with smocking near the collar. Any colour in her outfit has been desaturated to grey. Henderson was strapped into a harness and flown in front of a green screen to create Myrtle’s twists and turns. The filmed Myrtle was then rendered in a digital version. ‘She dives in and out of toilets, and bursts out of the plumbing system,’ says Emma Norton, visual effects producer. ‘Something that obviously had to be done in CGI!’

Peeves

As happens regrettably when transferring a book to its filmed version, some characters don’t make it into the final version. Peeves, a mischievous poltergeist that haunts Hogwarts’ halls, was to be played by actor Rik Mayall in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but beyond costume sketches, the impish ghost did not manifest on-screen.

Helena Ravenclaw, aka The Grey Lady

The Grey Lady, originally played by Nina Young, is introduced along with the other Hogwarts ghosts at the opening feast in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, she also appears in a deleted scene. The true identity of Hogwarts’ Grey Lady is finally revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 to be Helena Ravenclaw, daughter of the House’s founder.

Actress Kelly Macdonald, who at one time had been considered to play Tonks, landed the part, which was the last major role to be cast in the Harry Potter film series. Jany Temime chose a simpler, sleeker design than the original Grey Lady that is more medieval in style. The fitted dress has an embroidered undergown and laced overgown, both with long, draping sleeves.

Guests dancing at Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Harry Potter: The Character Vault book cover

Extracted from
'Harry Potter: The Character Vault'