"The Wizarding World is not resting — it keeps building," says Thierry Coup, chief creative officer for Universal Creative

By Michelle Tauber
November 11, 2020 03:50 PM
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Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando Resort
| Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

The world got its first taste of butterbeer 10 years ago — and fans have been lining up ever since.

A decade ago, the Harry Potter books and movies were transformed into a fully realized version of the fantasy world created by author J.K. Rowling with the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. Rowling herself attended the opening, along with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and the other stars of the blockbuster film franchise. At the time, the eighth and final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, had yet to be released.

"I remember people coming to hug me and tearing up," says Thierry Coup, chief creative officer and senior vice president for Universal Creative. "When I had the chance to take the cast through, even they were moved. For so many years, they had been on the set and they had seen parts and pieces of that world — and now, being there, they were touching the actual walls. It was really so magical for them."

The stars of the Harry Potter films at the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort in 2010.
| Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

Now, 10 years later, "we're not done," says Coup. "You think about what has happened with Harry Potter in the past 10 years beyond our theme parks — The Cursed Child, the eight movies, Fantastic Beasts, the mobile game Wizards Unite. The Wizarding World is not resting. It keeps building."

Hogwarts Castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort.

The original Wizarding World of Harry Potter introduced everything from a working Hogwarts Express train to the majestic Hogwarts Castle to the snow-capped charm of Hogsmeade Village — including butterbeer, which Rowling personally taste-tested.

Butterbeer varieties at Universal Orlando Resort
| Credit: Universal Orlando

"The pressure started when we went to pitch the project to her in Scotland," says Coup. "Putting together a concept that would stand up to her expectations. When she finally said yes, we were so excited and then we realized we were faced with this huge challenge of bringing this story to life. It was like a giant wave of, 'Oh my God, we get to do this.' "

Tasked with creating a first-of-its kind attraction that would give guests the sensation of taking flight on a broomstick, the creative team designed Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is housed in Hogwarts Castle.

"The whole idea of creating a flying experience was the holy grail," says Coup, "being able to achieve that sensation, to fly along with Harry Potter and his friends, that was an achievement. We had to create new technology for that. Bringing our magic to the tech side of it was a major achievement in 2010."

The Harry Potter film stars at the opening of Diagon Alley in 2014.
| Credit: Gustavo Caballero/Getty

Since then, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has seen a second major expansion with the 2014 opening of Diagon Alley, also at Universal Orlando Resort. (The butterbeer offerings have expanded along with the parks and now include fudge, hot and ice cream varieties along with the original and frozen versions.)

To maintain the authenticity of Rowling's vision, Coup and his team "broke a lot of rules" customary for theme parks, he says.

"From the size of the shops to the signage to the entrances, everything was scaled appropriately to what people saw in the books and movies," says Coup.

Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort
| Credit: James Kilby/Universal Orlando Resort/Getty

Following the openings of both areas of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Coup says he still wished to create the Forbidden Forest — a vision that came to fruition in 2019 with the opening of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

"That attraction puts a big smile on everyone’s face," says Coup.

The film stars at the opening of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in 2019.
| Credit: Splash News Online

"That keeps fueling our creativity and our desire to do more," he says. "When you see the guests' reactions, it just creates so many wonderful memories for them. People are even inspired to read the books for the first time! They take their children and they discover the world of Harry Potter. That’s huge for us. This is a business of emotion, bringing fun and smiles to everyone."