Seven design secrets behind LEGO Harry Potter 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition
From a last-minute piece to a ‘problematic’ colour, the team responsible for 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition reveals seven design secrets behind the latest LEGO Harry Potter set.
Available just in time for its departure to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on September 1 (it launched August 31 in the end), 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition delivers the biggest and best version of the Wizarding World train to date. It’s blown all previous budgets out of the water to do so, coming in at £429.99 / $499.99 / €499.99 for 5,129 pieces and 20 minifigures.
To celebrate the train’s arrival, we caught up with former and current LEGO Harry Potter Design Leads Marcos Bessa and Andrew Seenan. In a roundtable interview with Brick Fanatics and other LEGO Fan Media, the design duo pulled the Invisibility Cloak back on the process of bringing the set to shelves, revealing all sorts of magical secrets along the way…
7 – The train conductor is technically canon
While nearly all of 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition’s 20 minifigures are based on specific named characters from the Wizarding World, three stand out from the pack: the two generic Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students, and the train conductor. But according to Bessa, the red-capped minifigure is actually canon to the Potter-verse.
“I don’t think we found any visuals from the movies themselves where we see the train conductor, but we knew of the existence of the train conductor,” the designer says. “We thought it would be a shame in this version of the train, where we were trying to be so accurate, that we would have just the engine by itself without anyone conducting it.
“We had some dialogue with Warner Bros. and we managed to get some reference from them – I believe from outfits that they use in the parks – which they consider accurate and canonical enough for us to follow. So that was where we got the reference from.”
6 – It didn’t always include a platform
The original focus of 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition was entirely on the train itself – and that meant no Platform 9¾. But as development progressed, the design team soon realised that would present an issue for the model’s cast of characters.
“There was some discussion in the beginning that all our minifigures were going to be hidden inside the train,” says Bessa. “At this point, we didn’t have the characters from the epilogue. We really only had the first two [scenes]. But if we wanted to have some characters on the outside to populate this display model, where would they go? And it would be the station.
“I had originally just one pillar with half arches, and a smaller platform space. It felt very lonely in the scale of the bigger train, so there was a bit of exploration as to how we could give more presence to the station without taking too much away from the train, and find that balance. Ultimately, we reached what the product is today, which I hope also invites people to build their version, maybe continuing that format and expanding on it.”
“We were also working on the shelf packaging, and there was the consideration of being able to bring these minifigures out so you can actually see them in context, and not behind the glass windows on the train,” adds Seenan. “Of course, a lot of the scenes from throughout the movies happened on that station, and that allows those scenes to be played out as well.”
5 – The scenes in the carriage are ‘mini dioramas’
While 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition is very much a vehicle, Seenan still considers it a close contemporary of the LEGO Star Wars Diorama Collection, which – like this Wizarding World set – uses tiles with quotes from its source material.
“I think we’ve seen these individual scenes almost as mini dioramas, which are connected together in the context of the train,” Seenan explains. “It makes perfect sense when you start to see them in this way, in these moments in time, that it would have this quote that ties it all together.”
In 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition, you’ll find three quotes inside the train carriage, and a fourth overlooking Platform 9¾, each with a memorable (or not so memorable) line from one of the Harry Potter movies.
“Hardcore fans may have those [quotes] memorised in the back of their minds,” Bessa adds. “But when you have this on display at home, and you bring your friend who’s maybe also a casual fan of Harry Potter, and they see that quote, it might bring back that memory of the moment that they saw in the movies, and [they could] have a stronger connection with what they’re seeing. The intention is to help frame the moments that you’re seeing inside the movie.”
4 – The ticket was a last-minute addition
Included in 76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition Edition is a printed 8×16 train ticket, which replicates the graphics designed by production company MinaLima for the Harry Potter movies. It sits adjacent to the rest of the set, without a natural place for it – but there’s a simple reason why.
“It was actually a very late addition to the to the model,” Bessa explains. “It was an idea that the team had: how wonderful would it be to actually have a life-size ticket in this big train? And we made a lot of effort in the team to make it work, because it became very last minute when everything was supposed to be done, so I hope there will be enough fans out there that will appreciate that.”
3 – The designers maybe dove too deep into the details
When someone mentions the Hogwarts Express, your first thoughts are probably of its gleaming red engine, the memorable events that take place on its many journeys to the wizarding school, and possibly the flying Ford Anglia soaring above it in the Chamber of Secrets. If you’re part of the LEGO Harry Potter design team tackling it for an 18+ set, though, your first thought would apparently be: is it powered by coal, or magic?
“This is something we actually had to align with Warner Bros.,” Seenan tells Brick Fanatics. “You know, it’s a real train. It should be coal-powered – but it’s powered by magic. At the end of the day we went with coal, but these types of discussions are the ones we have a lot. We went into quite a lot of detail on the magic vs. the real-world train.”
“We were literally digging for frames to see, ‘Okay, how much do we actually see of the top of the coal cart?’” Bessa says. “Was there coal in there in the movie? And we did find a few frames that we could see some coal from the top, so then it made sense to cover it with coal. But we had that discussion: should we just make it empty and allude to the fact that it is indeed a magic train? It was fun to have those discussions with Warner Bros.”
2 – Gold accents would have been ‘problematic’
While the real Hogwarts Express is a combination of scarlet and gold – at least in the movies and books – the latest LEGO version follows its predecessors with a mix of bright red and flame yellowish orange. The designers have already revealed why they opted for bright red over dark (it would have risked reading as brown), but the absence of gold is apparently a consequence of technical limitations.
“Our moulded gold is a problematic colour for production reasons,” Bessa explains. “We cannot necessarily mould every brick in that colour, and that poses some challenges when we need to do stuff that is supposed to be golden. I made the decision quite early to keep the highlight colour across the coal car and the passenger car in this darker yellow, which in combination with red really works well in my opinion. It’s a good approximation of this golden colour that we see in the reference.”
1 – It needed real magic for one play feature
76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition incorporates a couple of functions – namely its turning driving wheels and trio of light bricks – but there’s one play feature most notable by its absence: a ‘magic’ wall for the minifigures to pass through to enter Platform 9¾. A similar function was included in the much smaller 75955 Hogwarts Express, so why wasn’t it manageable here?
“I needed the wall of the platform to be much wider than it is right now in the model,” Bessa explains. “And it’s not just one section that I make wider, and then everything else stays the same – everything grows and amounts very quickly to a lot more bricks, which would take away from what is the hero of the model, which is the train. So it was a deliberate choice: for the experience we were trying to give, it was less important to have that play feature.”
It wasn’t just size standing in the way of the wall, though. The play-scale Hogwarts Express achieved it on a much smaller scale, after all – but relatively clumsily, with a wall segment lifting up to allow minifigures to pass through. And according to the designers, an 18+ version of the train would have required genuine magic to still appeal to adults.
“The 2018 Hogwarts Express had it in there because you get a lot more artistic licence,” Seenan explains. “In terms of hierarchy, that play feature is really important [over] the authenticity of how it’s actually shown. But of course, in a model like this authenticity is most important.”
“You would have wanted it to literally come out of that wall, but without seeing it on the other side, because otherwise you’re messing with the magic,” Bessa adds. “So the whole wall structure would have been much, much bigger. It was something we did try quite early and accepted that for this scale, it wasn’t yet big enough to make it work.”
76405 Hogwarts Express Collectors’ Edition is available now at LEGO.com and in LEGO Stores. You can find our full review of the 5,129-piece set here.
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