The Pottermore Correspondent’s guide to movie-making: creating the New York skyline

The Pottermore Correspondent

Newt New York skyline no WM

How to make things that don’t exist look like they definitely, absolutely exist

How do they make an entire New York City skyline appear in the middle of an English air field? Where does an actor look when they’re doing a scene with an imaginary beast? And what do puppets have to do with it all?

First, to the New York skyline. Production designer Stuart Craig, set decorator Anna Pinnock and a team of artists and craftspeople built their own version of New York City out at Leavesden. The exterior of Tina and Queenie Goldstein’s red brick flat, Jacob’s tenement-style apartment, MACUSA headquarters, and a string of stores line the fake-cobbled streets of the Upper West and Lower East Sides.

But New York is a big, sprawling city. Sure, the Empire State Building wasn’t around till 1930, but there were tall structures that tickled the clouds even in 1926. To depict these in the film, green screens were placed above the set buildings. In post production these will be replaced with digital extensions that will not only increase the height of the set buildings but also extend the New York skyline – in some shots up to 50 blocks.

And if they can magic up such a skyline, they can bring to life all the fantastic beasts in Newt’s case, right?

Right. Newt Scamander’s beasts will be created in post-production (happening right now) using CGI. It's a complex process. Elaborate puppets made and manipulated by puppeteers from the stage play War Horse were used for Eddie Redmayne to interact with. While something more simple, like a tennis ball on the end of a rod, gave the actors an eye-line and moved exactly where the beast will appear later.

As we’ve seen in the evolution of all eight Harry Potter films, CGI has become even more sophisticated over the years — used to blend real-life actors into imagined scenery and, of course, to bring extraordinary creatures to life.

The CGI team on Fantastic Beasts will render the creatures straight from J.K. Rowling’s imagination to the final cut of the film. This cutting edge CGI will make the Swooping Evil look as lifelike as an emerald-sapphire bird that flew right down from the sky. The definitely, absolutely real New York sky.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay