Where can you peek inside Batman’s Tumbler, gaze upon hundreds of Harry Potter outfits from across all eight films and find Wonder Woman’s shields packed neatly away in padded cymbal bags?
Or hold a Galleon, observe the changing designs in Quidditch uniforms and broomsticks, and discover the tricks of displaying a film costume to its full potential?
That would be the glorious 160,000 square foot UK Warner Bros Discovery Archive, home to a rich history of the studio’s iconic, British-based moviemaking, from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to DC Studios and beyond.
As Warner Bros – originally a family-run enterprise set up by Jack, Sam, Harry and Albert Warner – celebrates its 100th anniversary, Metro.co.uk was the first UK media outlet ever to be invited behind closed doors to take an exclusive look around its impressive archive, filled with costumes, props, and vehicles from some of the most popular films in cinema history.
The archive is not open to the public, but Warner Bros allowed our cameras in to document as much as we could share with the world.
With the archive initially founded as a place to house the wealth of material from the Harry Potter films as shooting wrapped, the UK has continued to be a preferred destination for Warner Bros to film some of its biggest tentpole productions.
Therefore, Harry, Ron and Hermione have quickly found themselves joined by Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Diana Prince, Arthur Curry, Barry Allen (a.k.a The Justice League), and a veritable litany of some of their most famous onscreen nemeses.
And when we mention Batman, we mean pretty much all of them – Batmen, if you will – with costumes and props both on display and neatly stored away from Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson and Michael Keaton’s versions of the Caped Crusader.
The archive itself is split into three major areas: a 30,000 square foot room for processing, filled with production cages for projects currently shooting or recently wrapped; another 30,000 square foot heated space known as the ‘inner sanctum’; and a massive 90,000 square foot area that houses mostly flatpack set pieces for ongoing shows or oversize props, like dragon backs or chess pieces from Harry Potter – things that would require a forklift truck to get to or move, as Steven Fouché, director of the WBD Archive, puts it.
We do a lot of our exploring during the visit in the inner sanctum, where the majority of costumes and props are easier to access – as well as being among some of the most important and valuable.
‘It’s where the best of the best comes to live, this is all the items that we really want to keep, first and foremost for historical value, just to preserve the history of the company and of everything that is shot within the UK,’ Fouché tells Metro.co.uk.
‘These items live a second life that’s almost as big, if not bigger, than their lives on screen. They get used for all sorts of purposes – we have travelling exhibits, retrospective celebrations, costume displays, and that’s what this get used for too – but first and foremost, it’s to preserve Warner’s history in the UK.’
What’s the oldest item at the UK Warner Bros Discovery Archive?
The oldest item in the UK Warner Bros Discovery Archive dates back nearly 90 years and is closely linked with one of its founders. It’s a book.
‘This came from Teddington Studios and was donated to us. It shows the meeting minutes from September 29, 1936 – and Jack Warner was the meeting. At that time, Warner shot a lot at Teddington, so the history of Warner’s in the UK is long,’ explains Fouché.
It also contains a fascinating bit of information in its pages from another, later meeting.
‘At one of the meetings – Jack Warner wasn’t present at that one – they are actually discussing a budget to camouflage the studio during the Blitz. It’s an amazing piece of history.’
And how did this book come in the archive’s possession? By total chance.
‘It was donated to us by a man who found it in the trash when they were moving out of Teddington – unfortunately it happens quite a lot! In the old days especially, studios didn’t tend to hang on to things, they’d make a film and they’d get rid of it, so a lot of items were just thrown away – and this was just thrown away. We are so grateful to him that he picked it up and looked at it and thought it was an item of interest because it absolutely is for us.’
The Harry Potter films form about 70 – 80% of the archive’s collection because, as Fouché explains, they didn’t really want to throw anything away. He doesn’t anticipate anything ever being saved from a film or franchise in that kind of quantity again.
‘By far the most important film history that we have here is Harry Potter, which was filmed entirely in the UK. We first received that in 2011 just after filming [wrapped] and that was when the archive was still at Leavesden Studios, and we were operating out of a tent!’
From the tent, the archive moved to a 40,000 square-foot space and then quadrupled its size to the current archive – its third home – in 2018, which Metro.co.uk is the first media outlet to visit.
That’s why you can find everything here from Mr Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia and Harry’s invisibility cloak to Godric Gryffindor’s sword, a Horcrux or two and dozens and dozens of wands, trunks, brooms and costumes.
Other films and TV shows face a slightly more discerning process to earn their place in the inner sanctum of the archive.
‘We wait until it’s released and, once we have the luxury of hindsight, we then go in and we look at the items and we make our choices from there,’ the archive director shares.
With Barbie one of the next films to be processed (our visit is ahead of release), we can confidently predict there will be a lot of pink joining that archive from the countless boxes labelled ‘Barbie’s Dreamhouse’.
Potter items even include miscellaneous trophies from a Room of Requirement scene, stacks of Daily Prophets and various written material, as well as fake food like mounds of chocolate dessert for the feasts and balls held at Hogwarts, after production moved away from using real food.
Fouché recalls: ‘They were allowed to have the food for a couple of hours before it became unhygienic to keep, so they had real chickens and everything – they had a team of people just cooking food for the Great Hall tables, but in the later films they went to food like this. That’s a lot easier!’
A framed timetable for the Hogwarts Express is also peeking out nearby, fully complete, despite the fact it won’t have been seen as anything other than a glimpse in the background of a scene (the train runs through stations including Uxbridge, if you’d like to know).
‘The detail in Harry Potter is astonishing. There are pamphlets for the Quidditch world cup that were never seen on screen, but you can actually turn through them and they’ve got player profiles,’ says Fouché.
In among the archive’s impressive collection of broomsticks (the Nimbus, Nimbus 2001 and Firebolt are all present and correct), we learn the distinction between things like generic student and stunt brooms, as well as the ‘hero’ or ‘beauty’ broom.
‘Quite often, especially with weapons, you’ll have the main hero or beauty one that you’ll do close-ups with, but then if that’s being used in a stunt or in any form of action, then they’ll make rubber or soft ones so that if an accident does happen you don’t have people injuring themselves,’ Fouché explains.
Most of the beauty broomsticks from Harry Potter are out on display at either the Leavesden or Tokyo studio tours, or one of the two travelling exhibits, with another two planned to start later this year.
The archive supports all of these tours with its collection, swapping items in and out to help create seasonal or specific displays – the same as it provides items for premieres and junkets when films are doing their promotional rounds ahead of release.
While many of the iconic Harry Potter and DC costumes can be neatly packed away in (very big) garment bags, smaller items go in boxes, which the archive is in the constant process of sorting, cataloguing and updating so every single piece can easily be at its staff’s fingertips.
Archive boxes are not separated by film, however, as it’s all about utilising every inch of available storage.
‘It’s almost like playing Tetris because you have got to find the right shaped items to fit into the box to maximise the shelf space and make sure you’re using all the space in a box,’ shares Fouché – yes, even when there’s 160,000 square feet in total to play with.
The archive’s location is kept tightly under wraps due to the interest and value of what it holds. However, the staff regularly ship items across the globe and have specific ways of doing so safely.
‘Items have to be in crates that are a stamped wood, so they are okay to travel internationally – and it’s just a box, there’ll be no label on it, so you won’t be able to identify what the item is inside. We try to keep it as anonymous as possible, but we do ship things all over the world on a weekly basis.
‘Everything we film in the UK too, we will send a set of to the US archive so that they also have representation of all the big DC films and the Potter films that are done here,’ Fouché adds.
Megan Crane, senior coordinator at the WBD Archive, is the resident Harry Potter expert and gives a tour of the range of Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter ‘hero’ costumes (so worn by him and not stunt doubles or stand-ins) currently in storage at the archive.
Radcliffe’s costumes take over almost an entire bottom rail of one of the archive’s full rows, and 22 bays in full. There’s everything from the (tiny!) red jumper he wore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when gazing into the Mirror or Erised, to his different Triwizard Tournament uniforms from the three tasks in Goblet of Fire, and the disguise he wears to break into the Ministry of Magic alongside Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.
There are also – if you remember – lots and lots of checked shirts and hoodies with stripes down the sleeves.
‘A lot of the costumes would have been sourced from just high street stores like Uniqlo and Gap, things that don’t look super stylish or expensive. They’re quite generic so you can’t pin them to a specific time period, which makes the films feel quite timeless,’ Crane explains.
There are plenty of what appear, at first, to be rather dirty costumes in bad condition too, reflecting the adventurous nature of Harry’s escapades – but this is all movie magic and ‘stage dirt’.
‘We have them treated to make sure the costumes are clean, but they are supposed to look like they’ve fallen down a bathroom sewer, so they’re meant to be all dirty and torn!’ Crane says as she shows us Harry’s costume from the Chamber of Secrets scene.
The senior coordinator – who herself appeared as a Ravenclaw extra in the final few Potter films and serendipitously came across her original costume when sorting through items for the archive – also tells us about the multiples some costumes must be produced in, to accurately depict various stages of breakdown.
There’s almost a full bay dedicated to Harry’s beige cord jacket and outfit he wears for the majority of the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
‘This is quite an iconic costume, you’ll see it on all the posters for the last Harry Potter film, he’s wearing it for a fair chunk of it, and what I like about this costume is that we have different stages of breakdown for it, so it’s the same costume but we’ll have multiple versions and some will be a little holey and some will be very damaged,’ Crane shares.
‘It goes from stage one to stage four, so stage one will be just normal and then we’ll have a change when it’s a bit more holed and then we’ll move onto the last ones where it’s incredibly damaged.’
Away from Harry Potter, some of the other more obviously eye-catching items in the archive include versions of Batman’s most iconic vehicles over the years.
Joshua Burns, manager at the WBD Archive, steps in with the DC knowledge here and is full of interesting titbits and context for the items.
Heath Ledger’s legacy at the UK Warner Bros Discovery Archive
Occasionally, small moments take the archive team by surprise, bringing home to them the historical – and emotional – value of the items in their collection.
‘We have to process these assets and put them into long-term storage, and we would then ultimately use [the costume afterwards] for any events like Comic Con or displays – I look at it as it going into its legacy phase,’ says Burns.
When Burns and the team were sorting out one of late actor Heath Ledger’s Joker costumes, they had a poignant moment.
‘When we were going through the archival process for this costume, we actually found some of Heath’s green hair on the collar, which was quite eerie.
‘But it also reminded us we had an amazing talent in this costume and in this version of the character – and he’s very much sorely missed.’
These include one of four versions of the latest sleek iteration of the Batmobile, driven by Robert Pattinson in 2022’s The Batman.
Firstly, this is a fully functioning car.
‘A lot of people actually think that they don’t work, they don’t function, but they do – they drive, [they’re] very loud, smell good, sound good… they’re the real deal,’ Burns asserts.
This Batmobile is one of the two main stunt versions that did most of the work in the film – you can see this from marks on the roof that indicate where the stunt driver would have been positioned while Pattinson acted below him.
It’s also rather less comfortable in real life than you see on screen, with plenty of space needed for all the practical elements. Stage dressing would be reserved for the ‘beauty’ model.
Bale’s Tumbler and linked bike is also dominating one corner of the warehouse, one of seven made (and the one that was repainted from camo when Bale’s Bruce Wayne famously asks: ‘Does it come in black?’). It’s also the one version that sports a sunroof.
There’s the ‘drifter’ costume and bike from Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne too – as well as his eventual Batbike – alongside Ben Affleck’s Batsuit from Justice League and Christian Bale’s Batsuit from The Dark Knight Rises.
The detail and heft of them up close is quite something.
‘It’s very much based on a tactical version, so it really gives that manoeuvrability inside it,’ Burns explains of Bale’s Batsuit.
‘It’s multilayered – you’ve got this fine mesh material underneath, which is more breathable and makes it a lot more lightweight, but then you’ve got these components that sit over the top. It’s actually made up of over 100 components, this particular suit, and each one would have been moulded and then added onto the base layer of the suit.’
Both these actors tower at six feet tall and over, and combined with such iconic outfits they immediately draw attention. There are interesting tricks, however, that can help make a smaller costume – or one belonging to a less imposing performer – stand out, from using white mannequins to ever so slightly stretching the illusion of them with bigger models wearing their costume in an imperceptibly different way.
How fans helped Michael Keaton return as Batman in The Flash after over 30 years
As many fans have celebrated, Michael Keaton made quite the triumphant return to the role of Batman in The Flash earlier this year, over 30 years after he was last seen in 1992’s Batman Returns.
He had a brand-new cowl designed, that is still very much recognisable as virtually identical to the previous ones.
‘It’s a slight update on what we would have previously seen with ‘89 and ‘92, just a bit of a modernisation of that design, but you still get that heritage look of how it looked for Batman and Batman Returns,’ shares Burns.
However, the studio looked in part to the hero’s fans to help. when it came to designing his utility belt, grapple, grapple gun and Batarang.
‘They were all recreations because we didn’t have the luxury of having the original items from the original film,’ admits Burns.
‘We have some amazing people in prop making that were able to use images from those films and from recreations that fans may have made over the past few years to make these new versions – I would look at these and think these were pretty accurate and very good representations of [them]!’
So, Warner Bros has Batman’s hoards of fans to thank for Keaton’s most recent appearance matching up to the past?
‘In a roundabout way, fans did play a part in this because we’ve got 3D printing now and a lot of fans are making their own iterations, so we have cosplayers making up their own version of these suits and props – so yes, in essence, they did have a part to play in it.’
Along one table is masks or moulds representing the major villains from The Dark Knight Trilogy, from Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow to Tom Hardy’s Bane, Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face and, of course, Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning version of the Joker, with the clown masks he and his cronies wear for the bank heist scene.
‘There were 12 different versions of masks that Heath could pick from, and they let him go in and choose the one that he wanted to use and that’s the one that they went with,’ Burns reveals, recalling a story he remembered from production.
And of course, with these sorts of designs, there’s a little added complication.
‘Clown masks have to be registered to be used, every clown in the world has to have their makeup registered, and so they had to register all these masks to be used within the film.’
Of course, throughout recent years – and the archive’s history – there have been a few new Batmans cast, and tales often tell of the final few actors trying out getting to wear a Batsuit from the past for their onscreen audition. This, it turns out, is correct and has actually fallen to the Warner Bros Discovery Archive in the UK to help out with before.
‘We have been asked in the past to support on a couple of occasions with future projects – it’s something that we try and help out with where we can, so if we can use those previous iterations to help develop new versions, we do that,’ Burns says, carefully.
‘If that’s what’s requested of us, we make it happen.’
From the new DC Studios to plans for a Harry Potter TV show, it’s clear that as Warner Bros celebrates its 100th year of making movies, the studio is constantly looking to the future – but never forgetting its past.
Warner Bros Studios celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2023, pre-order the studio collection 4k box set at Shop.WarnerBros.co.uk
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