I spent a couple of hours the other day painting the prototype wand that I’ve started making for MCM Comiccon later this year. It’s a simple enough process but has proved very effective at helping to focus past the extremely low place I’ve landed in recently – and that’s partly because it’s a simple set of techniques that very quickly give a useable result.
The basic wand, larger than the types typically seen on screen, is composed simply of tightly rolled up magazine pages, with a lattice of hot glue lines laid over it.
In terms of the structure I’d defined with the glue lines, I would best describe it as a wand with a blade protruding from the hilt, so a clearly boundaried area needed to be created.
This was simply done with a ring of glue at the top and the bottom of a length of the wand big enough to accommodate my hand.
I started by blocking the colours with Sharpie just to see how colour changes would help emphasise the sections of the wand, before giving the entire length a simple black acrylic paint base coat. This covered both paper and the glue lines, and helped seal the paper spiral edges to strengthen the whole thing.
Then I used a combination of thinly painting and drybrushing silver acrylic across the whole length. This picked out details and gave highlights to the raised glue lines and knots. Finally, I lightly painted and distressed the handle area with an ochre acrylic which gave the impression of a leather binding in that area.
So far so good. I next intend to try using a diluted black ink wash to darken shadows and joints, and am considering painting the traditional wand area to represent wood between the glue lines. I’m also thinking of staining the handle with a red ink to differentiate it more from the “wood”
I’ll see how it goes from there. Making new wands is such a quick process that if I make a horrendous mess of the painting or break anything I’ll just make another. As I’m not trying to replicate any particular design I don’t feel any pressure as to its final appearance
We seem to have a growing tradition round here of not doing birthdays per se, but more birth weeks. It seems to match everyone’s busy lives and schedules, and is a great excuse for extended celebrations.
This week is my ex-wife’s birthday – the Former Lady M – and we decided to lay on a bit of a surprise for her – namely a visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour just outside Watford. She thought we were meeting for a Sunday pub lunch, so the arrival of a few friends at the venue was her first clue that we were up to something.
Particular thanks has to go to the Charleesi, who steadfastly headed off enquiries about where the pub was, or suggestions that they drive themselves to meet us. Only the fact that she was ready before we got to the house raised the slightest suspicion.
In the end we had a lovely wander round. The Former Lady M started off with an attempt to look cool and collected and not at all geeky – but fortunately that didn’t last.
As things always seem to be developed or changed every time we go, there’s usually something new every time. This time there was a special focus on fashions and design in various smaller displays throughout the tour – leading to more than one cosplay-related conversation along the way. They’ve also just opened the Forbidden Forest, complete with weather and lighting effects, and one or two animatronic moments.
Along with the Platform 9 3/4 section, this demonstrates what I hope continues to be a continuing immersive and interactive flavour to the tour’s development. I shall observe future expansions with interest.
We’d pegged today as being devoted to Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure but were very aware that there was a lot left to explore at Diagon Alley so decided to get back in there first thing to carry on.
We started with brunch at the Leaky Cauldron and found great delight in the British-sized portions of well cooked food, even down to a good batter for the toad in the hole.
Suitably fuelled for the morning, we then went into every shop we could find, before ending up in front of the new Ollivander’s. Wand selling stores are popping up at each site that focus on the named character wands as a quick drop in, but having heard about the wand choosing performance we thought we’d invest the time and see what they were like.
As we were led through to where it would all happen, we found ourselves remarking that we kept expecting to see cast and crew names on the boxes piled high, given our experience at the Studio Tour before Christmas.
Chattering away, we filed around the dimly-lit room and fell silent as the soft spoken wizard began to welcome us. Much to our surprise, and the notable chagrin of several other parents with their children, my daughter was picked out to participate.
I don’t think I’ve seen such a mix of excited nervousness on her face for quite some time. As in the film, a number of wands are presented, and the prospective owner invited to cast spells.
The first wand made flowers die instead of watering them; the second made drawers rattle violently rather than pull a ladder closely. On picking the third (described as being made of willow and containing unicorn hair) there were sudden light, gusts of air and a fanfare, just as in the first Harry Potter film. The wand had picked its wielder, and both could now learn from each other’s qualities.
Well, we couldn’t not buy it, given we’d every intention of picking something up anyway, and as Charleesi’s wand was one of the ones capable of making magical effects with the two Wizarding World locations we picked out wands for ourselves too from the same range rather than choosing character wands as souvenirs.
I picked out a “reed” wand, if you’re curious, which is supposed to be flexible and suiting creative writers.
The majority of the rest of the day was spent re-exploring the sites, trying to find the markers and motions required to open locks and books, make toys fly and spin, set shrunken heads singing and animating skeletal diagrams (these last two in Knockturn Alley).
Staff, in-character, were always nearby to help if people got stuck, advising on where to point the wands for best effect. The dark wizards were suitably unnerving when they stepped out of the shadows.
We even sneaked back on to the Dragon rides in Hogsmeade, just because we could and the efficiency at which they move the queues was so good that we were in and out within ten minutes.
We did explore the Islands a little, and mostly spent time in the Marvel Superheroes area. We went on the Incredible Hulk ride and it has gone on to our top rides list, with elements of Colossus and Nemesis to its fast looping smooth metal track.
We also got chased around by the Green Goblin. I think he liked making the girls jump by sneaking up on them. After the second surprise though, he beat a hasty retreat. This was mainly because Lady M nearly swung a punch at him, and Charleesi poked her new wand straight in his face as he bounded up to her. I was very proud to see them run off this nefarious villain, and relieved security didn’t get called…
Our evening meal was at the Port Orleans resort, at the Boatwright Cafe. This was good Southern cooking to sing and dance about. Lady M had crawfish, Charleesi had catfish, and I had an epic jambalaya that made my tastebuds very happy.
I can also happily recommend the non-extra-sugared creme brulee with raspberries on top as a reasonably sized portion of deliciousness. We’ll definitely go back there next time.
On our first visit to Universal Studios, we deliberately avoided going into the Harry Potter themed areas. Today we took it by storm. Split across both the main park and it’s daughter, The Islands of Adventure, Hogsmeade has this year been expanded to include Diagon Alley (and it’s shadowy counterpart: Knockturn Alley, which is concealed round the back).
We got there as early as we could after an alarm clock malfunction, and piled into Platform 9 and three quarters. The illusion of walking through the wall is cleverly done, and the journey, although brief, was entertaining.
The level of immersion presented is frankly jaw dropping. All staff are dressed appropriately and all seem to be huge fans, making the whole experience something like a huge fandom convention on steroids.
Lady M was in her element, excited and positively squealing in joy when the music we used for her wedding march (The Quidditch World Cup themes) was played in The Three Broomsticks while we had lunch.
Staff in the restaurant were amazed, and claimed she was the most excited person they’d met, which triggered blushes, more clapping, chattering and bouncing up and down.
We just had to try the drinks. Charleesi had butterbeer, while I went for the frozen version and Lady M had the pumpkin juice. They were incredibly sweet, and I certainly couldn’t have more than one. To be on the safe side I tanked up on water for the rest of our visit.
For food, we attempted the Feast, reasoning that three hungry Maidments could polish off a meal for four. We were wrong. Chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, brocolli, carrots, and potatoes with a mountain of salad were duly brought across to us.
It was delicious, though the chicken was just barely a touch on the dry side. The vegetables were perfectly al dente, and the rosemary on the roasted potato was just right. The ribs just melted off the bone and were just sticky enough, while the salad had a light citrus vinagrette that lifted it perfectly.
There was just too much to eat comfortably, so we conceded defeat before rolling back out to continue exploring.
The rides in Hogsmeade are great. We loved trying both the blue and red dragon rides as there were only five minute waits. Our favourite was the swooping blue dragon course.
The flight of the hippogriff ride was fast, along the lines of a runaway train ride, and the 3D immersion of Escaoe from Hogwarts actually had the girls screaming between the spiders and dementors. I’ll admit to shuddering a bit at the dementor attack too.
We browsed the shops a bit to pick out what we might like to get for family presents and then got back on the train to Diagon Alley. Different animations played on the journey back to the Universal Studios end of the track, keeping us distracted as we pointed them out to each other.
Then, a quick sidestep left out of the station into a concealed entrance and we were in the newest section. If we’d thought the immersion in Hogsmeade was pervasive then it had been taken up a notch for the Alley. There is no way to see the rest of the park from this area, and at roughly double the width and about one and a half times the length of the street set at the Watford studios, the main street just swallows the crowds.
When you factor in the side streets and the shops, you suddenly realise there’s a huge area associated with it. We’d heard that the queues for the Gringotts ride were still hovering around the three hour mark as a minimum so we’d decided not to try it this year, but then we saw the wait time listed as 75 minutes, so we just went for it.
A combination of rollercoaster and 3D projection, I just can’t stress how much fun it was. The Hogwarts ride felt longer, but the Gringotts immersion and effects are both superior, down to the animatronic goblins that glower at you while you queue and are very good likenesses of the original actors. Make the time to try this if you can.
Exhaustion was setting in by now, so we decided to call it a day and return tomorrow to finish it off. Frankly, Universal could close the two outer parks and still have enough with the Harry Potter material to keep it a multiday visit attraction.
Dinner was at the Grand Floridian and was a great close to the day. Or it would have been if we hadn’t got the boat across the lake back to the Magic Kingdom where we were just in time for the Electrical Parade and the closing Sound and Light, and Fireworks displays. A quick side trip for photos and a meet and greet with Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbell later, (no points for guessing that Lady M was rather excitable at this point) and we finally collapsed back at our hotel