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Earlier this year, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood debuted a new nighttime show called Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle. The 8-minute show uses projection mapping onto the castle to tell a story dedicated to the darker side of magic, the kind they won’t teach you at Hogwarts. The grand finale of the show sees Harry Potter’s stag Patronus light up the night sky in a beautiful display that seems like magic.
It is obviously (and sadly) not real magic though. It is actually achieved thanks to the magic of technology, specifically dozens of drones that emit the bright lights that makeup Harry’s brilliant stag Patronus. According to Forbes, Universal Studios Hollywood partnered with the Intel Drone Group, which had experience putting on drone light shows, with the express purpose of lighting up the sky with the stag Patronus that Harry Potter shared with his father James.
You can’t just go to the local electronics store, buy a bunch of drones and hope you can make them form a pattern in the sky though, and that’s why Universal Studios reached out to Intel in the first place. There are a lot of variables and calculations that have to be made to get the desired effect and have it be as magical as possible.
In addition to getting approval to use the airspace where the drones would be flying, Intel Drone Group also needed to account for the environment, where the drones would launch from and what the animation is that they would have to perform. It’s an involved process that can take months to realize and undoubtedly part of why Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle was in development for over two years.
Universal Studios Hollywood’s Senior Director of Entertainment Production Stephen Siercks wouldn’t divulge the specifics of exactly how they pull off the show’s phenomenal Patronus finale, but did say that it is a “really complex program that blends both technology and choreography.”
While the technical side of such spectacles is always fascinating, it is sometimes cool to not know how it works and just suspend your disbelief as much as possible and allow yourself to be immersed in a fantastical world. Although I imagine a video doesn’t do this justice, you can check out Harry’s Patronus in the sky in the video below.
Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle ran for 15 days earlier this year and returned to the Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood for Memorial Day weekend. The show next returns to the park on June 22 and will run through August 11. Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle is also coming to Universal Studios Orlando, but dates have not yet been announced.