Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Graphic Art of Harry Potter

This post was originally published on HOUSE by House & Garden.
As an online intern for a magazine, I received an email inviting me to the private viewing of an exhibition that seemed to bear some relation to Harry Potter. Naturally, I found myself putting the new event onto my iPhone calendar before I knew it. I have re-read the Harry Potter books literally dozens of times and stayed up all night to complete the film marathon more than once.
The Graphic Art of the Harry Potter Films is an exhibition by MinaLima currently being held at the Coningsby Gallery in London. It features many of the graphic designs from the films, which were created by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. The design duo met on the set of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and have worked together ever since their magical collaboration. They are currently working on the upcoming feature film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them based on the short book J. K. Rowling wrote for Comic Relief in 2001.
Entering the gallery, I looked down at my feet to find Hogwarts acceptance letters addressed to Mr. H. Potter in bottle green ink strewn across the floor (though they couldn’t be picked up, unfortunately). The same envelopes, though this time real, hung above us all in the second exhibition room. These details were touching, a nostalgic reminder of waiting for my own letter as a child.
The gallery’s two small rooms are covered in framed designs, tightly packed due to the limited wall space. MinaLima seem to have included every graphic prop that ever appeared thoughout the Harry Potter film series, from book covers and Daily Prophet front pages to Weasleys’ Wizards Wheezes posters and sweets packaging. One design that I can’t recall seeing on screen is the book cover of ‘Mudbloods and How to Spot Them’, which the hauntingly saccharine Professor Umbridge kept in her Ministry desk. It is strongly reminiscent of historical propaganda posters, as well as James Bond’s gun barrel motif.
Prices for the artwork range from £99 – that’s for a beautiful unframed illustration of the Whomping Willow from the Marauder’s Map – to £899, which can buy you framed prints of The Quibbler, a Quidditch World Cup poster or the Black Family Tapestry, amongst others. If you know a Harry Potter fan and would like to give them a unique Christmas gift, this presents the perfect opportunity to find a truly special collectable. You even have the chance to meet the magic makers as Mira and Eduardo will be attending the exhibition on weekends.
The following are just a few of the pieces at the exhibition, with quotes from artists Eduardo and Mira.

The Daily Prophet was the most important newspaper in the Wizarding World, famous for its lies, particularly those penned by Rita Skeeter. Designer Eduardo revealed that he and Mira wanted to maintain the traditional sections of a regular newspaper, such as horoscopes.
‘We wanted all the graphic props in the wizarding world to seem as if they were credible, real objects, somehow familiar to the viewer even though they’re not. We did this by meticulously researching period references or, in this case, the actual layout of real newspapers. Only then could we shift this ‘reality’ a few degrees into our fantasy world, giving the objects their magical twist and sometimes idiosyncratic style.’

In the penultimate film, Harry was marked as an ‘Undesirable’ – a criminal wanted by the Ministry of Magic. The exhibition also features other issues annoucing important wizarding world events such as ‘Mass Breakout’, ‘The World Cup’ and ‘H.W.N.B.N. Returns’ – the latter marking the day the government and press finally admitted Harry had not been lying about Voldemort’s return.
‘Only a couple of the main headlines would be given to us in the script – everything else we had to make up!’

The Quibbler was, of course, the magazine edited by Luna Lovegood’s father, which featured conspiracy theories and other odd stories. In this issue, spectrespecs – spectacles that allowed the wearer to see wrackspurts – were given as a free gift to readers. Luna wore these glasses in the sixth film.
‘Often, we have to capture the personality of the character behind a prop and only have very limited screen time to do so. This was the magazine of eccentric and opinionated Xenophilius Lovegood, so the design and content (which we have to write) needed to reflect this.’

The Marauder’s Map was a clever magical object created (in-universe) by Harry’s father and friends, though of course was created in our world by Eduardo and Mira…
‘When we started designing the map, we knew it should be evidence of the characters who created it: cunning, intricate, unconventional and also witty. We wanted to show the complexity of the school’s architecture – that it is made of layers and corridors and is often quite unfathomable!’
‘We found some beautiful eighteenth century animal drawings made out of lettering, which gave a suggestion of how to execute the map in a more unexpected way. All the lettering forms have been traced over the actual architectural drawings of the film sets, so that the parts of Hogwarts have some semblance of credibility as a map. Mira drew it all by hand in pieces that were then assembled digitally and printed on a humble photocopier. Nescafé Goldblend is the secret ingredient for the all important final ageing… however, we cannot reveal the exact alchemical formula!’


This book is in fact the key to the principal plot (and name) of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, so the cover design of this particular item on Harry’s supply list was incredibly important.
‘In the scene, Harry and Ron fight over getting the newest copy  of this book, so we had to create two ‘editions’, which would help support this story moment. Although Harry ends up with the tatty one, it turns out to be a trove of information for his potion-making. Snape’s scribbled notes inside were done by hand and in a way that would communicate his anxious, intense personality. All the books in the films were professionally bound at The Wyvern Bindery and then aged by us to fit in with the story.’

As you will remember, Harry kick-started the Weasley twins’ work on their clever joke-products and sweets by giving Fred and George his winnings from the Triwizard Tournament.
Eduardo and Mira described filling three floors of the Weasleys’ joke shop with so many magical designs as ‘a challenge and a dream’.
‘When we created the hundreds of products for their joke shop we had to approach the designs as teenage boys who would have had very poor design sensibilities! So lots of clashing colours, clumsy type layout and mismatched printing techniques.’

‘Which historical events or political figures did you draw on for the propaganda posters and pamphlets?’
‘We looked at Russian constructivist propaganda graphics for both layout and typographical inspiration. We needed to suggest an environment of dogma within the transformed Ministry of Magic, so this was a perfect aesthetic to refer to.’

‘Where did you find the inspiration for the ‘Wanted’ posters?’
‘Again, we looked at historical, authentic wanted posters, then shifted the language accordingly to fit our magical world. The posters were made with green screen panels for the moving photos to be placed in post production.

The Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film began with the Quidditch World Cup, where the golden trio watched future Triwizard Tournament contestant Viktor Krum catch the snitch in the wizarding sport invented by J. K. Rowling.
‘Vintage posters for major sporting events informed the design of this poster.’

The Graphic Art of the Harry Potter™ films runs until December 19 at the Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 4RJ. Free entry.

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