The Devil is in the Detail: What Does It Take to Create the Magical World of Fantastic Beasts
There is a house in Soho, London, sandwiched between a French bistro and The Three Greyhounds pub, where the wizard world and the muggle world meet. For all we know it has been there for hundreds of years, but in 2016 it revealed itself to the general public and opened its doors to one and all.
The House of MinaLima is the gallery and shopfront of Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, two designers responsible for the entire graphic look and feel of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts universe; that’s every paper you see in the hands of Harry or Newt, every Honeydukes sweet wrapper crumpled into Ron’s palm, and all the posters and wanted signs at the Ministry of Magic.
The pair worked on the Harry Potter film franchise from its beginnings in 2002, taking the series through a near decade journey to its final chapter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II. In 2016, Mina and Lima returned to the Potter-verse to work on Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and now they are back with a new collection of graphic artworks for the sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
We spoke to Miraphora Mina about the world she and Lima have helped create, the new film, and their new collection of artworks.
“I cannot deny that we did look at the Nazi propaganda campaign,” says Mina. She’s talking about a particular piece or, rather, pieces currently on display at the MinaLima gallery: flyers created by Grindelwald and his alliance to promote his extreme and uncomfortably topical message of pure blood wizard rule. In black and white and gold leaf detail, the alliance insignia, which combines the “G” of Grindelwald with the symbol we all now know to represent the Deathly Hallows, is immediately reminiscent of the swastika.
“We looked at how they did it, not trying to replicate it but at the ways it was formulised and calculated, and we know that Grindlewald has those characteristics. He’s very charismatic and organised. Whether or not they use it in the film, I don’t know." Indeed, these pieces did not make it into the final film, but that immediately illustrates what is so special about The House of MinaLima. It’s a place where the world of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts is expanded, a place where fans can delve deeper into the characters than could ever be achieved within the limitations of a film’s run time.
Situated directly behind the gallery is the Palace Theatre, where ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ has been playing to sold out audiences for the last two years, The House of MinaLima is the place to be if you are a Harry Potter fan. “We chose to be face to face with the fans. When we set up this business, we took a license from Warner Brothers to reproduce all the work as collectable art prints, because we realised so much of it was just sitting in hard,” Mina explains. “Opening this building means we’re interacting on the ground with wizards. It helps us every time we work on new films.” Sometimes, it must be said, things get a little out of hand. “It’s always a measure of things when we go to the [Harry Potter] conventions and we see someone with Marauders Map tattooed on them,” says Mina. “Stop! I didn’t mean for that to happen!”
So where do you start on a project like Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald? Well, much of the action in the new film takes place in Paris, so quite naturally that seems the perfect place to begin. “We did go to Paris, where we scoured the flea markets and bought stupid stuff that no-one else wants,” Mina says, visibly excited at the memory of those trips to the French capital. “That could be anything from a bus ticket to wallpaper samples, from posters to maps, postcards, old books with unique binding, colours, papers, and obviously typography, which is really important because that is the communication device.
“The script is our bible,” says Mina, explaining how they establish what exactly is required. “We analyse it, break it down and find the key pieces that drive the story, which we call hero props.”
The attention to detail on display is astonishing. It brings about a heightened awareness of just how surrounded we are by design in our everyday lives. Everything we interact with here in the real world has been given its wizarding world counterpart: labels on wine bottles have their own enticing style, magazines are brought to animated life, and even France’s first lady, Marianne, is given a magical makeover where those proud three words liberté, égalité, fraternité are transformed into incanté, envouté, conjuré.
“Everybody from art department to photography, to visual effects has captured Paris really well,” Mina says with pride. “I think we’re the only department that has to deal with actual language, because the dialogue is all in English,” she continues, before admitting that “there’s a spelling mistake in the window… someone came in and told us and I said, well, you know we always try to anchor everything in a reality of the space and time, and the people who will have made this poster may not have been the best at spelling.”
It is clear from meeting Miraphora Mina that this is so much more than a job, more than a project, more than a hobby. “We are blessed to be working on this franchise that has such attention to detail in the content. That’s our thing, really. I don’t know what we would have done if we were put on a franchise like Star Wars where we wouldn’t have had so much freedom.”
The collection is on display now, at The House of MinaLima in Soho. Visit their website for more information about free tours of the artworks.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald plays in cinemas from Friday 16 November.