Given the amount of people dressed in “Harry Potter” themed robes and regalia, one may have mistaken Universal Studios for the wizarding world itself this past weekend. Wizards everywhere, young and old, rushed to the popular Orlando park for the first ever “Celebration of Harry Potter,” an event commemorating the fantastical book and movie series conceived by J.K. Rowling. While the event on the whole would appease any casual Potter fan, die-hard followers of the bespectacled young wizard may have left a bit disappointed by the end of the day.
Since the occasion was called a “celebration” of “Harry Potter”, it would be logical to assume that Universal would pull out all the stops to honor the franchise that rakes in millions for them every year. Instead, it was under-planned and devoid of, for lack of a better word, magic. Practically every function took place in one isolated area while the rest of the park, including Diagon Alley, appeared no different than it would have been on an ordinary day. The only area with anything going on was a large music stage near the entrance, where presentations such as film talent panels, wand dueling demonstrations, graphic design tutorials, and film trivia were lined up from nine to five o’ clock. To be fair, the “celebration” wasn’t intended to be a fan convention, such as the popular LeakyCon, but there could have at least been more hype generated around the park. The whole event felt like UT homecoming: Unless you had walked by the fields during the Saturday soccer games, you’d have no idea that we even had a homecoming week.
The first scheduled event of the Saturday festivities began with a lot of promise as British actors from the seven “Harry Potter” films, including Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and twins James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) were on hand to answer questions asked by randomly selected fans in the audience. Notably absent was Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), who was sick with the flu. While the audience participation component was a nice gesture, it fizzled fairly quickly. The emcee would pick “random” younger fans from the audience, who (through no fault of their own) would ask redundant questions that inevitably produced one word answers, such as: “what’s your favorite animal?” or “what’s your favorite spell?”
Energy was restored, however, by the comically blunt Gambon, who seemed clueless at just about every juncture. Unlike the stern and mild-mannered Dumbledore he plays in the films, Gambon was chock-full of eccentricity. Sporting a gray sport jacket, striped blue tie and pink socks, he repeatedly spewed out one wild card answer after the other.
“I would choose my mustache,” said Gambon when asked what magical item he would bring back from the Potter world. “And I’d wear it everywhere. But not the beard, that’s uncomfortable.”
The panel of four eventually delved into deeper subjects, but everything felt forced and awkward. The actors were set up on the Music Plaza Stage, a concert-sized venue sandwiched in between the Rip, Ride, Rock It coaster and the “Transformers” ride. Because of this, the actors were interrupted every few minutes by screams from the rollercoaster and a loud, abrasive siren noise that emanated from the exterior of the Transformers building.
Much like the first event, the subsequent panel of graphic design duo MinaLima seemed incredibly intriguing in the beginning. Artists Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima began by explaining the level of detail injected into every single “Harry Potter” film; details that the average viewer would likely gloss over when watching the films. For example, every Daily Prophet, the wizarding newspaper, was filled with fake news articles about various witches, wizards, and even quidditch matches. Mina went on to explain that the newspaper derived some of its influence from Russian propaganda after being taken over by the Ministry of Magic.
“We looked at Russian propaganda posters and so on, and used that aesthetic to inform what we wanted to do in the design,” Lima said. The same newspaper was never used more than once.
“We made sure that all the Daily Prophet covers were different,” he said. “There’s no repetition in the design.”
While it was fascinating to see the inner workings of the films from the designers’ perspective, the effectiveness of the presentation was yet again spoiled by poor planning on Universal’s part. The artists had to fill a forty-five minute time slot and the intervallic dead space was at times painfully awkward. It was as if the planners behind it all said, “Okay, go out there and talk about your art for an hour. By the way, here’s a powerpoint. Oh, and have fun!”
Arguably the best part of the day was Kazu Kibuishi, a Seattle-based artist who illustrated the re-released covers of the “Harry Potter” books. Instead of just throwing him on stage and expecting him to divulge his life story, the brains behind the operation had Kibuishi design a cover from scratch on stage while simultaneously answering questions asked by the host and a few audience members. In the span of about thirty minutes, Kibuishi crafted a near perfect cover while also dishing out some poignant creative advice.
“When you’re painting, it’s about finding the image more than just creating the image,” Kibuishi said.
He then went on to explain that you should never limit yourself or get locked into a specific goal. Instead, work tirelessly on your craft and let your work speak for itself. The genuine, down-to-earth feel of this culminating event put a silver lining on an otherwise bland day, leaving certain fans wondering why it hadn’t been structured like that from the beginning.
Overall, the whole ordeal felt a bit like a Gilderoy Lockhart class: all style, no substance.
Griffin Guinta can be reached at Griffin.firstname.lastname@example.org.