History: Harry Potter and the Forbidden HHN Code Names

Why does Universal use code names for HHN, have you ever wondered?  The truth is, up until 2008 they never used code names at all but the story behind how they were created them is a fascinating insight into how the event is created.  So pull up a comfy chair and allow us once again to delve into the history of the world’s greatest Halloween event…

Firstly, we need to separate Universal from Disney to show how these two theme park giants are setup in Florida.  When dear old Uncle Walt decided to build what we know today as Walt Disney World in a quiet area of Florida he went to the State and got a whole bunch of unique abilities and permissions, that to this day have never been bettered by any other organization.

It was the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District that enabled Disney to effectively do what they wanted within their vast property without having to go through the same channels as other businesses. They could then wholly control within their boundaries the waterways, power, utilities, personnel, zoning, airspace etc.  And in return Disney would drive employment opportunities for all and substantially increase tourism. And although that is a vast simplification of the process, it does allow Disney to build what they want, where they want, with some limitations but without the requirement to get the City of Orlando to sign-off on absolutely everything.  Universal on the other hand, did not have this luxury.

So when Universal wants to build anything it has to go to the City and get full permission to do so, just like every other business in Florida.  And it was 2008 where this became an issue. It had been known to the then small HHN fan community that the permits for these houses would be put onto the internet by the City, with the reference of houses being “temporary haunt themed buildings for the purposes of seasonal entertainment.”  It wouldn’t name the houses but it would list any approvals and inspections occurring by the City (fire checks, disabled access etc); this was the limit of the information that was provided online.

However, it was soon found out by a number of fans that if you visited the City’s offices in person as a regular citizen you could go and look at the physical plans being approved.  I remember speaking to the City’s officer in charge of the approval process back in 2006 and she would readily go through the plans providing every last details, which at the time would have been by about late spring.

The first issue of this process arose in August of 2008, when plans for the event were leaked all over the internet, including the house names, house locations, layouts and facade plans. This led to five of the eight houses having their actual titles known, with three open for speculation.

Universal were livid that the City would allow this situation to occur as the fan (who shall remain nameless) had taken photos of the blueprints using his mobile phone and had posted them on various online forums.  Universal who unbeknownst to the world at the time had just signed a huge master licensing agreement with JK Rowling and Warner Bros (in a huge coup against Disney) back in May 2007 and were gearing up to agree themed lands and attractions with their new partners.  Universal’s level of annoyance at this issue would only intensify if they were to submit these plans to the City only for them to be leaked by the fan communities or agents of Disney (conspiracy theory? Nah, just kidding on that last one).  How would this affect their new Harry Potter agreement and all future HHNs if everything they did would be leaked?  Universal proposed a solution.

Universal petitioned the City to make a local change to the way in which themed entertainment building processes could be handled.  In many ways Disney had it far easier as they not only had their own law making district but also at the time they only used their own properties.  Universal had to get full approval for everything they did plus they used largely third party IPs – all of which put Universal in a precarious position. The City agreed to Universal petition (a petition that was supported by the other local non-Disney theme parks) and from then on, the City would never release drawings of proposed themed entertainment projects to the press or public without prior permission. This swift step change from the City would be nicknamed by the HHN fan community as “Potter’s Law”.

And although it was too late for 2008’s HHN, the law would come into effect for every Universal project including all the Harry Potter additions and every HHN since late 2008.  So in the following year that it was decided that HHN houses would be given code names as Universal needed a formal process of referring to their properties with the City.  They initially used a numbering system but this was complicated by the many third party vendors who confused drawings and issues.  The City also did not like the numbering system, so it was agreed that code names  would be used for all within the production process and would simplify matters. The City could say the house named “Flashlight” had it’s disabled access approved and everyone from the technician to the Universal CEO would know what “Flashlight” was and how the construction of that house was progressing.

“Flashlight” by the way, was the code name for the Usher’s house of that year.  The very first HHN code names were:

Soundstage 22 – Brute – Frankenstein: Creation of the Damned
Soundstage 23 – Agana – Dracula: Legacy in Blood
Soundstage 23 – Big Boy – The Wolfman
Sprung One – Geppetto – Chucky: Friends ’til the End
Sprung Two – Civic Duty – The Spawning
Parade Building – Flashlight – Silver Screams
Disaster Overflow Queue – Pleasant Vielle – Leave it to Cleaver
Jaws Queue – Hammer – SAW

You can see above how the Orlando code names are used as mental triggers and connect to their houses, making them essentially guessable for guests but not without some serious detective work (that’s what us at HHNU are for!).  So whereas Murdy from Hollywood’s HHN will use code names can be weird and wonderful, the Orlando ones are far more technical and practical – which is why they are not as forthcoming with releasing their code names as what Hollywood are.  Indeed, the only way we all learned of the code names for 2009’s HHN were to speak to the City as that was the only information they could tell the public following Potter’s law (not with Twitter as it is done now).

So there you have it, the history of the Orlando code name and why they are used.

If you found this article interesting and love to read about the history of our beloved event then you can read more in our 2016 HHN guide, or you can wait and our soon to be released 2017 edition will be out crammed full with more behind the scenes stories and facts about the world’s greatest Halloween event.

And let us know in the comments what you think the code names for this year refer to…