Universal Studios Hollywood to introduce ‘bone-chilling’ Harry Potter light show this summer

Universal Studios Hollywood provides a preview of the new spectacle the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, coming to the park June 23 with music by John Williams.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Windswept trees, chirping frogs, scurrying critters and squawking crows echoed throughout the room only to be drowned out by the sweeping overture of orchestral music.

The sights and sounds being manipulated in the studio on this day weren’t for a summer blockbuster or drama series. Instead, the work was part of an ambitious light show that Universal Studios Hollywood will debut at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Launching June 23, the new spectacle the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle coming to the epicenter of Wizarding World will be “in your face,” organizers said.

“We really wanted the guests to have that bone-chilling moment and go, ‘Wow, this is something I’ve never experienced before,’” said Stacey Quinealty, the park’s senior manager of audio and visual production. “It’s really spectacular.”

For more than a year, a team has been working on the experience. Nighttime Lights is exclusive to Universal Studios Hollywood and will run multiple times a night during its summer run.

A detail of one of the projections for the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle.
A detail of one of the projections for the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

We really wanted the guests to have that bone-chilling moment.

— Stacey Quinealty, senior manager of audio and visual production for Universal Studios Hollywood

When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened last spring, Academy Award-winning composer John Williams — who scored the first three Potter films — led the Los Angeles Philharmonic through some of the music during a splashy ceremony.

The display was accompanied by fireworks and a light projection, and the reaction from the media and VIPs led park officials to think about bringing a similar spectacle to guests nightly.

“If you think of the series, that soundtrack — particularly the John Williams soundtrack — it’s such a part of the emotional experience,” said Tim Runco, the park’s senior vice president of entertainment. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how to bring that out in a way so that’s it not just playing to you. ‘Immersive’ is really an overused word, but we really did bring people into it.”

Imagine this: Night has fallen over Hogsmeade, and guests are sipping Butterbeer and exploring the fictional village conjured by J.K. Rowling in the books. Hogwarts goes dark, and the sounds of the dark forest beckon guests closer to the castle.

And then the words Potter fans dreamed of hearing from that famous hat: “There’s nothing I can’t see, so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be.”

The words from the Sorting Hat launch a spectacular five-minute show in which the iconic imagery of the houses of Hogwarts — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, for the unaware — takes over the castle and the formidable mountain it rests upon.

A different look for the Nighttime Lights spectacle.
A different look for the Nighttime Lights spectacle. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Williams created the light show’s original arrangement, which is a medley of music pulled from the films. It was conducted by William Ross, who adapted and conducted the score for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

The arrangement was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road’s legendary Studio One.

“People have such a strong connection to this story,” Runco added. “With the music, you don’t want to detract from it, you want to amplify it because it’s so amazing.”

The team recorded each instrument individually with a multi-channel system; with eight models of speakers and 3-D projection mapping, guests will experience the show differently depending on where they watch from.

To further amplify Williams’ score, the audio will be piped in through a 27.5 surround-sound system. (For comparison’s sake, most movie theaters are 5.1 or 7.1.)

“It’s going to give them a sense that they are wrapped by the orchestra, not just watching something at a distance,” Quinealty said. “You’re going to feel all of this live motion.”

Added Runco: “The space [will] be alive, with the way it sounds. It’s going to be a magical experience.”

For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy


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