There’s a reason why the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort is so immersive. Not only did the Universal Orlando creative team work tirelessly to bring the world of Harry Potter to life, but they did so in close collaboration with Warner Bros. and the very people responsible for putting J.K. Rowling’s stories on the big screen. Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park feels exactly like stepping into the titular village from the films (complete with Hogwarts adorning the background), while Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida is absolutely packed with tactile details and delightful shops straight out of the movies.
The relationship between Universal Creative and Warner Bros. continued with the creation of the phenomenal new attraction Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which is located in the Hogsmeade area in Islands of Adventure. The highly themed roller coaster transports guests into a brand new Harry Potter story anchored by Hagrid and his cadre of magical creatures—both friendly and not-so-friendly. But the ride itself is only one part of the attraction, as the queue allows guests to wander through the gardens behind Hagrid’s hut, into the abandoned ruins in the Forbidden Forest where Hagrid cares for his various creatures.
I recently got the opportunity to visit Universal Orlando Resort to preview Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and during my visit I got the chance to speak briefly with art director Alan Gilmore, who helped bring Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure to life. Gilmore worked as art director on the Harry Potter film franchise and collaborated with production designer Stuart Craig to bring Rowling’s fantastical world to the big screen. That partnership continued when it came to creating Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort, and their latest collaboration is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
During our discussion, Gilmore detailed the collaboration process between the Warner Bros. filmmakers and the Universal creative team and explained how Hagrid gave them the opportunity to delve into a new and unique setting in the Wizarding World. Gilmore also talked about the input of the Potter filmmakers and Rowling herself on the new attraction, the Easter Eggs that fans can discover throughout the new ride, and more.
I could have spoken to Gilmore for another hour at least, but hopefully you’ll find this brief interview as fascinating as I did. It’s the tiniest of looks into the fruitful behind-the-scenes collaborations that make the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a haven for Potter fans like myself.
When you first came into this attraction to work on it, what are the parameters you’re given? Do you know that it’s a coaster? Do you know that it’s Hagrid?
ALAN GILMORE: Yeah we have the basics. It takes a lot of planning to design these incredible places. It’s an engineering spectacle, I’d say. I’m just in awe of the engineers and the guys that design theme parks, and how they do it. But I think where we come in as filmmakers is we are adding to that experience by layering in storytelling at a very high level. We’ve approached this as a movie. We’ve created a script, we’ve created a scenario, we’ve created places. We’ve worked very closely with the filmmakers and this has to be a movie brought to life for us, and you’re jumping into a new movie in a way. The way we approach theme park experiences is we don’t use the word “theme park,” we just use the word “experience.”
So trying to join the two worlds together has been quite an interesting journey. We’ve been doing it for 10 years now, and I think we’ve now almost kind of found this amazing symbiotic relationship where we’re feeding each other. The Warner Bros. Design Film Team can use the ideas of the Universal Creative team, and we can add layers on top of that. It’s what we do as filmmakers. We respond to the story we’re given, and we create the places to respond to that. I think it’s been super successful, it’s something very new.
We deliberately kept this very quiet. Internally we knew—a bit like we knew with Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, we knew it was good, we knew it was special, and we wanted to keep it secret almost until the last moment. We didn’t want people to know too much about it. Now that you’re in here you can see how immersive it is, how you are in nature, it’s all around you. And this is a beautiful compliment to the existing Wizarding World. Now we have all these layers, it all becomes one.
Coming off of helping create Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, what did you want to do differently with this attraction?
GILMORE: Well this really is more about the Scotland and the countryside and the mountains and nature, and Hagrid being a representation of that part of the world. That was our most driving force. It doesn’t really draw anything from London or Diagon, it’s a whole other unique place. It’s much more set in the countryside.
You mentioned the filmmakers, did you speak to David Yates or Steve Kloves—
GILMORE: Yeah no everybody’s involved. It’s a huge collective family, and we all work with each other and we all have our own individual skills. Not one of us would say, “It’s my idea.” This is a joining of many ideas, of many different skills. My job particularly is to create the environments, the architecture, the places, and to really work with Universal and to try and refine those places. The more I learn about this world, the more I can help them and they can help me.
Did J.K. Rowling give any specific input?
GILMORE: Oh absolutely, she’s very involved. Her great team in London, we work very closely with them and they help us tell the story and refine it. So it fits into her world perfectly.
The queue is amazing; it all feels very lived in. What are some of the Easter Eggs people can look out for?
GILMORE: There are a lot of Easter Eggs. There’s a lot of little details that have been brought to life. There are pages in the Monster Book of Monsters that have never been seen before, there are egg charts, just mainly little details of things people touched on but we’ve never seen before, and they’re all created by exactly the same people who create the films, so what you see here is the film. It’s 100% a facsimile of the film. The same creative people.
I know Universal people are probably very well-versed in the engineering of the ride, what do you then get to do when they say like, “Here’s what the ride car looks like?”
GILMORE: Well we have a term “Potterize.” I’m very much a detail nerd, everything you see around here is absolutely correct to detail. I’m into detail, and then you tell the story on top of that detail. I don’t like to twist things and make them extra strange. I want them to feel absolutely right and extra real, so that’s my job is to almost filter a lot of the ideas and kind of steer this story in one direction so it makes complete sense and is still fantastical in a different way.
I noticed a number of handmade statues outside here in the queue. Can you talk about those a bit?
GILMORE: So those are creatures that Hagrid has made. This whole area is the back of Hagrid’s garden. I work with a colleague named Rosie who was the set decorator on the films, and she helped design all this area back here (points to the beginning, outside portion of the queue). It’s where Hagrid grows food, where he brings students. In a way, it’s very interesting how we’re touching on living in nature and living with plants and living with trees and living in the forest. It’s a very nice experience for the times we live in today.
Having worked on the films, can you talk about how the Dark Forest contrasts aesthetically with the world of Hogsmeade or Hogwarts?
GILMORE: The Dark Forest has trees that are many hundreds of feet high and we are just on the very edge here. You go deep into the Dark Forest when you’re on the motorbike, and it’s a very interesting place. There are centaurs, there’s lots of mythical creatures. Really the students shouldn’t go there, it’s very dark. You have spiders, you have other creatures that Hagrid knows about that aren’t safe for students. So we touch on that a little bit, but we don’t wanna put anybody in any danger. You’re always safe.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.