The Graphic Art of the Harry Potter Films: the two designers bringing fiction to life

Immerse yourself in the Wizarding World at a new (free) exhibition in London.

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Rarely have stories with such specific atmosphere translated from page to screen as smoothly as the Harry Potter film series. The rich, bustling worlds of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Ministry of Magic have an on-screen texture that feels like a natural extension of their written origins. While it’s no secret that the success of the franchise is thanks to an enormous creative collaboration between thousands of individuals, a major component came from one pair of graphic artists: Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, or MinaLima. Together, they spent ten years working in the art department on the Harry Potter films as graphic designers of the Marauders’ Map, the Daily Prophet and every other graphic prop in the film series.

The extent of their contribution to the series is made clear by a new exhibition at Coningsby Gallery: The Graphic Art of the Harry Potter Films. A mixture of prints and props, the exhibition shows a small selection of their work on the franchise: from schoolbooks and sweet wrappers to wartime propaganda and wanted posters. Adding magical touches to conventional objects, their work bridges the gap between fantasy and reality. While the artworks are all nostalgic and familiar, they are not all immediately recognisable: some are “lesser seen” pieces, some not seen at all.

The scale of the project is extraordinary: as you walk inside the door of the exhibition, there are Hogwarts acceptance letters strewn around the floor – just a handful of the 10,000 letters that were made for the first film. An alphabet print from Harry’s bedroom in his parents’ house hangs on the wall: “A is for Alchemy, B is for Broomstick”. A book cover for Triwizard Tragedies, designed for the fourth film, “never made it out of a schoolbag.”

Walking around the exhibition, it gradually dawns on you just how many hours work the 90 or so pieces demonstrate. The level of detail involved in each individual print is impressive: Daily Prophet covers are complete with full articles (some lifted verbatim from the book, some invented), tiny Pensieve bottles are intricately labelled, and even large works like the Marauders’ Map were partially drawn by hand with ink and quill. But each piece also represents far more than these visually immediate elements.

The Daily Prophet might be “the single most labour-intensive prop ever”: Mira notes that Eduardo was “essentially the editor” of the paper throughout the making of the series, laying out and putting together the finished product. As the newspaper moves through the later books, increasingly becoming a propaganda tool for a government in the grip of dark wizards, its aesthetic changes from one of elaborate fonts and creative details to a more uniform, text-heavy style. Of course, wizarding newspapers literally move, and one part of taking these props from paper to screen involves layering green paper over each page to function as a green screen: allowing post-production to bring the paper to life.

Another wizarding publication featured heavily in the films is the Quibbler, the “alternative” magazine owned by Luna Lovegood’s father, offering political articles outside of the mainstream wizarding press’s coverage. Seemingly influenced by historical political cartoons, the covers are playful and witty, with illustrated cover stories like “How far will Fudge go to gain Gringotts?” These covers are glimpsed in the hands of Luna Lovegood several times in the fifth film, but Eduardo and Mira worked on producing entire copies of each issue, filled with conspiracy theories and wizarding games, that are never fully seen on screen.

A copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the book Dumbledore leaves Hermione in his will, reveals similar unseen treasures: one print for sale is of the pages inside, delicate paper cuttings in black that tell the story of “The Tale of the Three Brothers”. These were originally intended to be shown on screen in Hermione’s lap, with the camera moving inside the book, beginning an animated sequence of the silhouettes in motion. (Instead, a three-minute animation was made independently by Framestore in the final cut.)

It’s complex work, but a lurid green wall decked with framed product designs for Weazley’s Wizard Wheezes also show the enormous amount of fun Mira and Eduardo have had with the films. Posters for what look like spicy laxatives (“Firecrackers: Hear them Roar!”) and Dung Bombs (“Freshly delivered every third Friday”) suggest a wicked sense of humour, as does a “Comb-A-Chamelon” hairstyle-transforming brush advert that features a cameo from Mira and Eduardo’s own faces.

One of the key pieces in the exhibition is a framed digital print of a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them cover, the school textbook by Newt Scamander that is the namesake of Warner Brothers upcoming film set in Harry Potter’s magical world. Mira and Eduardo are equally involved in this next part of the franchise, spending every day at Leavesden Studios as they did on the Harry Potter series. While J K Rowling’s original series may be over, MinaLima continue to enlarge her vision of the Wizarding World with their fantastical yet palpable works.

The Graphic Art of the Harry Potter Films is on at the Coningsby Gallery until 19th December. All prints are for sale. Images via MinaLima and Megan Taylor.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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