Published on Aug 10th 2021
The Harry Potter films were filled with beautiful and intricate props – including the books. We’ve spoken to MinaLima, the design studio that created them, and put together some cool behind-the-scenes facts and trivia that you might not have known before…

MinaLima is the creative force behind the fantastic graphic props for the Harry Potter movies. We sat down with Miraphora and Eduardo, the graphic design duo who brought all these wonderful things to life, to get the inside scoop on how the magical books and textbooks came to be…

The books were incredibly detailed even if they didn’t feature on screen…

Every book that MinaLima designed for the Harry Potter movies was incredibly intricate and detailed. Each book had to enhance the story – even if it only featured on screen briefly. One such book was The Tales of Beedle the Bard. According to Miraphora, it was important that the audience understood within a couple of seconds that this book was something that had been handed down from generation to generation, and they kept this in mind when creating it. Yet, it wasn’t just the cover of the book that included a lot of detail – the inside did too. As Miraphora says:

‘Whilst you see the cover a lot, the inside was designed after conversations with the director and the design teams. The plan was for Hermione to flick through the book and the pages to become the silhouette animation (that we actually do see in the film) but for there to be a transition from the paper page to the animation. But in the end, the page bit got cut from the film and we went straight into the animation. And it is the most beautiful animation. So that was why if you look inside the book now, you’ll see that it is all black-and-white silhouetted images with laser-cut spaces and layers. So, it really feels intricate and like a little jewel of a book really.’

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Their designs included clever features…

When designing the props that we saw in the movies, you might think that as long as the book covers were decorative that would be enough. However, that was not the case. If you look closely at any of the magical books that were featured, you will see some really clever little details that helped enhance the stories. As Miraphora says:

‘We always feel like the props are living things in a strange way. It might sound a bit mad, but I think if they can be, they should be. If you’ve got a good story then they can be living things that help tell the story just as much as an actor, or a set, or a visual effect.’

With that in mind, when it came to creating Dark Arts Defence: Basics for Beginners, Miraphora and Eduardo really focussed in on what the book was saying about Umbridge’s attitudes towards the students – and specifically her contempt for them. Miraphora explained how they managed to make a book seem so patronising:

‘It was all driven by the story because we needed to show that Umbridge was completely patronising the children’s intellect at that point in their schooling. And that she wanted to very overtly show that she had no respect for where they were at in their education. And she was going to completely undermine that by giving them a children’s book. We needed to make that playful and still have an essence of something from the period. We looked at 1940s children’s books – and there were so many of them – it was such a good era for children’s illustrated books and they’re still so familiar in people’s minds. So, the style tells us straight away that it is a children’s book, but then if you look closely, you see little wizards with little black cats. But also, if you look again closely, you’ll see it that it is a repetitive image, so they’re reading a book of a book of a book of a book – this kind of mad endless tunnel that you can never get out of. And even the pages inside are just ‘Page One of How to Cast a Spell’ it’s years below them.’

That idea that this book is incredibly infantile, was something Eduardo thought Hermione demonstrated when she saw this book:

‘I think Hermione shows that straight on her face. When she picks the book up, she’s like: what is this?’

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The books were meant to be timeless…

One other interesting element, when it came to the creation of the books, was the freedom that Miraphora and Eduardo had – as they weren’t required to follow one style. Each book was carefully considered and made to reflect the period that suited it best. According to Eduardo, this was thanks to J.K. Rowling and her relaxed approach:

‘An important point that relates to all the books is that we never really follow one style. For example, The Tales of Beedle the Bard could be a 19th Century book and with Advanced Potion-Making, the first version had the look of the 1920s or 1930s and then the later edition was from the 1960s. So, we had that freedom because J.K. Rowling was very clear on that. She said Hogwarts was a mishmash of a load of different influences, so we wanted to show that – especially with the book covers.’

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J.K. Rowling had a very clear idea about Rita Skeeter’s book…

While J.K. Rowling allowed Mira and Eduardo free reign over most of the books and textbooks, there was one that she had a clear vision for. The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore was one of the only books that she gave directions on. Apparently, she told Miraphora and Eduardo that it needed to look like a ‘trashy airport novel’. As Eduardo discusses, the design pair worked hard to successfully deliver J.K. Rowling’s idea:

‘I think the way we did that was to be very bright with the colours, with the pink and the green and the silver, and to make it very over the top, just like Rita Skeeter is. But the book is basically all about Rita, it’s not even about Dumbledore. So, we needed to make sure that was reflected on the book. Even the pages inside were on very thin paper – you could see the page behind. It looks very cheap because, in our heads, she just wanted to sell as many books as possible. She’s a gossip, she doesn’t care if she’s lying or not, it’s ‘let’s just make money with this book’. We had to look at some trashy airport novels and one thing they all had in common was that they had big lettering in foil and were embossed – so we incorporated those elements.’

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Advanced Potion-Making required two textbooks that were the same but completely different…

Arguably one of the most important books of the entire series was Advanced Potion-Making, which appeared in the Half-Blood Prince. Miraphora and Eduardo were keenly aware of its significance and how it played a crucial role in the story. When they began the process of designing and creating it, they used the scene between Harry and Ron where they scramble for the textbooks as a jumping off point. As Eduardo says:

‘We knew we had to do two editions of that book, so we started from that point. And I remember – everyone remembers – when you were at school, you never wanted the horrible, old, dirty book with lots of notes – you always wanted the pristine one. So that was our starting point.’

Once that starting point had been agreed, the two editions of the book were created at the same time. Miraphora discussed how the books needed to show that they had come from the same stock, the same school cupboard, that they contained the same information, were by the same author and essentially had the same everything. Once that was all in place, it was then a case of ageing the shabby copy – which was easier said than done according to Miraphora:

‘This additional layer of ageing is really applied to all the books but particularly to this one. As Eduardo said, we needed to identify that it was the shabby, discarded one that no one wants. So that’s not just us hitting it with a hammer, you need to go look at old books and see how (and this is something we do all the time) bindings are made. The actual architecture of the book is quite a science and so it’s very easy to try and replicate time – ageing a book – if you look at the real ones.’

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Capturing Snape’s personality was an intricate business…

The other element they needed to consider when creating Advanced Potion-Making, was how that book was supposed to be a window into Snape’s personality. From the scribbles in the margins to his handwriting, it all mattered. As Miraphora discusses, when designing it, they needed to think about how they were going to communicate all that to the audience with limited screen time:

‘In quite quick succession on screen you need to show his thinking. Is it logical? Is it passionate and impulsive? Yes. A bit chaotic? Yes. Or is it organised? No. So all those traits you can then feed into the style of the handwriting, the mess he made on the page and how he hid things in the back. All those bits of text and narrative that J.K. Rowling gave us, we needed to manifest them in this handwriting. It seems really banal, but actually it’s like you’re trying to capture the essence of Snape in this thing.’

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The actors were thankful to have something to read…

One thing we learnt from Miraphora and Eduardo was that in a lot of movies, if a book is a used as a prop, the pages inside are often not created. While this was the way MinaLima originally worked, by the time it came to the second or third film, they made sure all the books had proper pages inside. One example of this, that Eduardo talked about, was the textbook A History of Magic:

With A History of Magic, we knew from conversations with the director that the book was not going to be opened. But we made sure that there were pages designed, just in case. If the actors needed to open the book on set, it could be opened. And that is another thing that no one sees, all the books have proper pages designed.’

It wasn’t just the fans of the movies that appreciated this, according to Eduardo, the actors also enjoyed this feature:

‘We used to get notes from the actors saying ‘thank you very much – because when we get the book, we open it, and we are immersed’. Usually in films you only have a few pages. So, when the actors are waiting to be called to the set they’re reading about Russia or the geography of Africa. But with what we did, you are going to be totally immersed, because there are pages here that you can read and check.’

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The books helped inspire James Phelps’s performance…

One actor that really appeared to appreciate the hard work and dedication that Miraphora and Eduardo had used to create these graphic props was James Phelps aka Fred Weasley. According to Miraphora, it inspired and galvanised him to dig deep and work hard to do his best:

‘James Phelps said that if someone had gone to this much trouble for his book, then he needed to go to that much trouble to deliver a good performance'.

Wise words indeed, James…

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All images were provided by MinaLima.

Limited edition art prints, stationery and accessories featuring MinaLima designed artworks from the Harry Potter films can be purchased from minalima.com and House of MinaLima.


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