‘Barbie’ Production Designers Created Kendom by Imagining ‘Your Worst Younger Brother’

TheWrap magazine: “It was quite tricky for us to get into Kendom, initially,” Katie Spencer says

"Barbie" I'm Just Ken Ryan Gosling
"Barbie" (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Discovery)

Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer lived the ultimate Barbie fan’s dream when they designed the world in which Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) and her friends live. To make Barbie Land as epic as it was, Spencer and Greenwood went to the source: buying their own Barbie Dream House and analyzing it for ideas. 

They were struck by the details in the house, particularly what was a physical item versus what was a decal attached to the hard surfaces of the house. It was something they used when showcasing Barbie’s first breakfast. Barbie opens a physical refrigerator that’s filled with a giant sticker of all her food. “That’s the toy thing,” Spencer said.

“You don’t need (decals) everywhere. You just need them enough,” said Greenwood, who added that it made sense to use stickers on areas like the dashboard and lights of Barbie’s car. But even the process of creating and working with the stickers for Barbie’s house and other elements of her world was a laborious process. “The fires were decals, the palm trees were a decal,” Greenwood said. “Even though we scenically painted them, then we copied them, and then we cut palm trees out, and then we stuck them on the palm trees.” 

That same sticker aesthetic applied to Ryan Gosling’s Ken-created Kendom. “We had stickers of horses everywhere,” said Spencer. For Spencer and Greenwood, creating this male-dominated world of Kens posed a greater challenge than Barbie Land. “It was quite tricky for us to get into Kendom, initially,” said Spencer. The pair would routinely ask Greta Gerwig, “Do you mean this ugly?” about everything on the set. “You have to imagine that they’re your worst younger brother, or they’re your worst boyfriend you never, ever wanted,” Spencer said. 

Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer (Jeff Vespa/TheWrap)

Once Barbie Land was established, the duo used that to create counterpoints for Kendom. The pair started to think about what men like to do—for instance, barbecue. “We brought in the barbecues and we put them over the stoves,” Spencer said. “And then on top of that, we put the plastic food. Everything was like, ‘Is this what they do? Is this not what they do?’ Instead of blending food they blend Doritos. Their record stacking system goes all the way up.” And everything was horses. Spencer and Greenwood said they made countless different types of hobby horses on which the Kens could ride into their beach battle. 

Throughout Barbie Land, the designers kept things pristinely plastic, without any of the “patina or mess” that Greenwood said they would normally use. She said this approach is best exhibited in the scene when the Kens are all singing to the Barbies around a series of campfires. The sequence pans out to wide shot that, as Greenwood explained, is so beautiful because it has no aesthetic look to it. “But, hang on a minute, that is the aesthetic,” she said. 

The pair said everyone on the crew was enchanted by Kendom, though they won’t say whether the women or the men preferred it more. “Fifty percent of the crew wanted to buy everything from Kendom,” said Spencer, especially the La-Z-Boys and massage chairs. The two admitted they did take some small souvenirs of their time in Barbie Land. Greenwood said she has a miniature palm tree, while Spencer has one of the Sugars, the dog owned by the discontinued Sugar Daddy Ken. “I would have liked Weird Barbie’s rug,” she said.

This story first appeared in the Below the Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read the rest of the “Barbie” below-the-line stories here.

Read more from the Below-the-Line issue here.

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