There’s an air of timelessness to Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and, according to the film’s production designer, costume designer and set decorator, that’s all intentional. “We weren’t recreating a dream house, we were making our dream house for our movie,” production designer Sarah Greenwood said in the latest episode of TheWrap’s How I Did It, presented by Warner Bros.
As Greenwood said, fans may feel they had a Barbie Dreamhouse exactly like the one Margot Robbie’s Barbie lives in within the movie, but that’s not possible because of how Greenwood and Spencer mixed and matched elements from the Mattel toyline’s past. It’s really a cherry-picking of all the various eras of the famous doll.
“She [Gerwig] wanted a place that wasn’t full of disappointment. You open the present and it’s exactly what you want,” said set decorator Katie Spencer. “It is that idealized version of a remembered past.”
The team had the entire history of Barbie to work with and, as costume designer Jacqueline Durran has spoken about before, that required everyone to explore that history through a child’s lens.
“I wanted to make it multidimensional so that you could look at it [as a] child; the child would just enjoy it from a point of view of colors, but there was something else going on if you wanted to look at it [deeper],” Durran said while adding that the entire concept of “Barbie” was “very funny because I had no idea where it would lead us.”
The only narrative rule that was set came from how one plays with a doll, according to Spencer. It’s a sentiment echoed by Greenwood. “What is it to be a doll,” the production designer said. “That was the first big conversation … the philosophy of being toys.”
In the dance sequence that opens the movie, all the Barbies and Kens are dressed the same or are making similar choices, said Durran. That was coupled with some of Gerwig’s own favorite looks and all of that needed to be blended to create a cogent vibe between all the characters. “It had to have a real atmosphere and cohesion,” said Greenwood.
For the big dance sequence set to “Dance the Night Away,” Durran settled on white and gold and worked with Gerwig to nail down the specific colors of the costumes, then had to figure out how to make the variety of costumes work together. “I just had to work out a way to bring that cohesion back to the dance so that when you looked at it, it looked like a whole thing, not lots of individuals.”
Durran also stressed the importance of working closely with Greenwood, Spencer and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to ensure that the bold aesthetic choices would cohere.
Because of that hive mind in Barbieland, the colors had to be similar, but not identical. “The pinks behave so differently against other colors,” said Spencer. The team started with hundreds of different shades of pink before eventually whittling it down to 12 and 13.
“It was like an amazing firework,” Spencer said of the experience making the film.
Watch the full “How I Did It” in the video above.