A tree grows in Hogwarts
Voldemort – excuse us, He Who Shall Not Be Named – is one of the most iconic villains of the 21st century and when he eventually passed away in the Harry Potter series, it drew the entire series to a cathartic close.
Even though J.K. Rowling has since revealed some major secrets about Harry Potter, and despite the fact Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series is going strong, it still feels like an entire generation’s childhood has come to an end.
However, one of the film’s visual effects supervisors has revealed in a recent interview that Voldemort’s mesmerising death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was actually one of several deaths they’d had planned for the character.
How did Voldemort die in the books?
If you can cast your mind a decade back to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry and Voldemort faced off on the Hogwarts grounds with everyone watching. By this point, Harry and his friends had already destroyed all of Voldemort’s horcruxes – fragments of his soul – and the only thing left to do was kill the dark lord himself. However, Voldemort saved Harry the act by casting a killing Avada Kedavra curse with the Elder wand, which backfired because the wand actually recognised Harry as its true owner and killed him instead. Instead of melting away into ash, Voldemort simply collapsed to the ground – like a normal human being, not a godly overlord.
How did Voldemort die in the movie?
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final showdown was far more dramatic. Harry and Voldemort launched themselves off a bridge, grappled with each other and then duelled in an explosive spectacle, before Harry’s spell overcame his. After that, Voldemort’s body disintegrated into layers upon layers of ash and floated away into the wind.
How was Voldemort originally supposed to die?
Greg Butler, a visual effects supervisor at Moving Picture, workshopped different versions of Voldemort’s death with two other visual effects artists. Rather than going Rowling’s understated route, they decided they wanted to transform it into a visual spectacle revolving around a blackened tree.
He explained to The Huffington Post that they went through ‘a whole bunch of concept art’ and ‘some crazy stuff’ was in there. He elaborated on the most dramatic spectacle, saying, ‘[Voldemort] becomes this blackened, charcoal-y tree shape that’s growing and then that tree turns to ash and blows away in the wind…that’s how far down the road we went with some of these designs, trying to come up with something you really couldn’t miss.’
How did they come up with his final death?
Even though the tree was a pretty wild idea, it was a good jumping off point for what eventually became the final concept.
Influenced strongly by Blade Runner, they decided to channel the same vibe of one of its character’s wide shot deaths and he explained, ‘The [Blade Runner] character is not quite human [and] just kind of stops having whatever was inside him that kept him operational. Voldemort, the shell, the humanoid form, is definitely gone, but what happened to the evil part? How do we make that go away?’
‘Somebody brought up the idea, ‘I like him there in the middle of this whole thing, but can something be rising up off of him?’ We started doing little black particles coming up off of him as if that’s the dark energy, his evilness is drifting off of him like some kind of gritty smoke.’
From there, the idea snowballed. He said, ‘We thought, ‘What are we gonna do for the close up?’ And we thought of the idea that his skin peels off, but it peels off in such a thin, onion-skin kind of tissue that there would be multiple layers. It would pick up in the wind.’
It turns out that befittingly, it was one of the very last things produced for the film. Butler explained, ‘That was one of the last shots we even thought of for the movie and produced for the movie, very last minute because it meant that it was the only shot we didn’t have anything we filmed for. It was going to have to be a completely digital, made-up shot that takes place within Hogwarts. But luckily, without knowing we would need it, Tim Burke had already had [effects company] Double Negative build an entirely digital Hogwarts for things he knew he needed it for and just because you never know what’s going to happen.’
To be honest, we’re kind of curious about what the original Voldemort death would have looked like. What did you think about the cinematic end of Tom Marvolo Riddle? Did you prefer the book or the film?