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Behind the scenes: The Shrieking Shack

Only Alfonso Cuarón could create a set that gives its inhabitants motion sickness...

Sketch of the Shrieking Shack for the Prisoner of Azakban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Extracted from Harry Potter: Magical Places from the Films by Jody Revenson
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The Shrieking Shack is a rickety, juddering structure set on a hill near Hogsmeade village. During the events of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is discovered that the building was created to house Remus Lupin during his transformations into a werewolf during his time as a Hogwarts student.

Stuart Craig knew that the iconic Shrieking Shack had to have a character of its own. ‘It needed to be creaking and moving, as if being continually buffeted by the wind,’ he says. He enlisted the help of Special Effects Supervisors John Richardson and Steve Hamilton to construct the set. First, a miniature model was created to determine the building’s movement. Then the full-size set was built on a hydraulic platform, as a structure within a structure. ‘It had a massive steel frame,’ Craig explains, ‘that was pushed around by the hydraulics. Then we built the set to hang on to the frame.’ Because of the amount of sway, the movement was not confined to just the walls: ‘The door swings back and forth, the shutters swing back and forth, the wall fabric kind of flaps… the whole room literally moves.’

Director Alfonso Cuarón adds, ‘It was Stuart’s idea that everything is shaking and everything is swaying. So it was a huge set that was built with this structure that allowed the whole construction to be tilting back and forth, squeaking all the time, and the walls moving back and forth. Some people got motion sickness just because of the walls moving like that!’

Harry Ron Hermione and Scabbers in the Shrieking Shack
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Craig was also influenced by Remus Lupin himself. ‘The journey to the Shrieking Shack is meant to represent the terrible journey Lupin endures during his transformation into a werewolf,’ he says. The room, which he presumed was furnished out of Hogwarts furniture, is decimated and reflects Lupin's inner torment. ‘He has this once rather splendid bed, now completely wrecked and completely dilapidated. To me, this room was designed to represent the history of these terrible transformations, the terrible agonies, and the violence and the damage that he wrought upon the place.’

The hard work of Craig and his team met the challenge of the complicated construction and detailed design, and that contributed to the shack’s emotional resonance.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The shack also presented challenges to the director and the actors. Alfonso Cuarón explains, ‘Everything was supposed to be dusty. So, for the first take, everything is dusted, and we do the take. When we go to take two, we have to dust everything again because you see everyone’s footprints. And again, take after take.’ Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) recalls that, ‘The creaking of the walls was so loud sometimes we couldn’t actually hear what the other was saying.’

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Craig is proud of the fact that though the audience might not see it, they can feel the layers of detail that were used in realising the shack. ‘If you look closely, you can see that within the special-effects steel frame there is a wooden frame. There are external boards as well as interior, internal ones. And then the whole thing is covered in this silk tapestry.’

He believes that ever-improving technology justifies this attention to detail. ‘I think that in any era of moviemaking what you half-saw and what you half-understood always played a part. But in these days of DVDs, where viewers are able to stop a film frame and analyse it, no detail is wasted in my view.’

The Shrieking Shack covered in snow
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter: Magical Places book cover

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