Here’s How the Barbie Movie Team Created All Those Fantastic Spaces

Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer have worked together for 25 years (and racked up six Academy Award nominations), and they’d never made anything like Barbie Land — until now. Watch our interview and get shopping inspiration from the Barbie movie set.

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July 21, 2023
Fuchsia corkscrew water slide against painted mountains.

BAR-Props&Sets-01262.dng

The set surrounding Barbie Land features three-dimensional banana plants, two-dimensional palm trees, and a third, smaller layer of trees to establish a sense of perspective.

Photo by: Jaap Buitendijk ©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Jaap Buitendijk, © MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

The set surrounding Barbie Land features three-dimensional banana plants, two-dimensional palm trees, and a third, smaller layer of trees to establish a sense of perspective.

In theaters as of July 21 and in just about every other conceivable space right now, Barbie's historic and history-making world feels like a living playset — and makes moviegoers feel like visitors in dolls’ Dreamhouses. When the sets they envision, environments they create and details they realize come together just so, production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer's artistry feels wonderfully inevitable: Of course that’s how Barbie Land should look!

HGTV’s YouTube series HGTV On Set With dives into the particulars of pink — and much, much more — with the legendary duo to learn how they brought director Greta Gerwig’s vision to life. (They worked even harder than Barbie does, and she’s had over 200 careers!)

Watch HGTV On Set With: Barbie for the passion behind the plastic, then join us here for our notes on their brilliance — and how to evoke their bespoke creations in your house.

Finding the Way to Barbie Land

Blonde in pink gingham dress looking out over cul de sac.

Margot Robbie as Sterotypical Barbie in Barbie Movie

The sky surrounding the set was painted on a cloth that was 50 feet high and 800 feet long.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

The sky surrounding the set was painted on a cloth that was 50 feet high and 800 feet long.

“Katie and I have worked together for over 25 years, which is a long time!” Sarah said. “When we’re designing sets for Barbie Land it’s like something we’d never done before. There’s so many questions about Barbie Land: ‘What is it, what are these dolls? Are they going to be plasticized?’ And then as soon as you speak to Greta and she just says ‘No, it’s THIS!’ and you go ‘Of course it’s that.’"

They went about creating "that" an environment designed for human actors playing dolls, that is — the old-fashioned (and painstaking) way. “It would have been easy to do it just in front of a pure green screen, but I think there’s a tangibility that the actors get [from non-CGI surroundings],” Katie explained. That then informs their performances: “They’re working on a real set,” she continued. “It was all built on a sound stage in London where they built the Harry Potter films.”

Places That Work Like Packages

Pink two-sided closet with suit set and gingham dress.

Barbie's Dreamhouse Wardrobe

Since there's no chrome in Barbie Land, the production team created its own muted "metallic" finish for items like Barbie's showerhead and the hub caps on her car.

Photo by: © MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Since there's no chrome in Barbie Land, the production team created its own muted "metallic" finish for items like Barbie's showerhead and the hub caps on her car.

Viewing Barbie the film needed to evoke the feeling of discovering Barbie the doll. “What Greta said initially was we have to have the feeling that a child has when [they open] a toy box and [they're] not disappointed,” Katie said. “And so the hard thing here is how to get that feeling into the interiors of the Dreamhouse.”

When it came to Barbie’s iconic getting-dressed moments, Greta “wanted Barbie Margot [Robbie, who plays Stereotypical Barbie] to open the wardrobe doors to look in, and then she would suddenly wear what she was looking into,” Katie explained. “So we put magnets on everything on the back so it would hold the handbag, it would hold the lipsticks that we made, it would hold all that so it would look like a toy but still look beautiful.” Yep, Katie and her team fabricated the lipsticks you see in Barbie Land. (They fabricated everything in Barbie Land.)

The world Sarah and Katie created was itself a kind of package, with internal logic that needed to be established, consistent and seemingly intuitive. “We were talking and saying that if in any way the look of it is right, people should say, ‘Well of course it’s got to be like that, how could it be anything else?” Katie said.

“It’s finding the rules and setting the rules and then sticking by the rules,” Sarah agreed. That led to some kooky, almost philosophical discussions: What do things look like when there’s no sunlight, electricity or shadows? What is a beach or a pool in a world with no water? “Even though it’s mayhem, the world we’re in — and it seems absolutely wild — it has actually got very strict rules that we stick by and that we all came to and arrived at. [There were] lots of questions; we were all constantly asking questions, and then you arrive at this kind of package.”

Perfect Proportions and Pinks

Smiling blonde woman looking through pink oval frame on stand.

Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie Looking in the Mirror

Items like Barbie's hair brush were exaggerated in scale to emphasize their toylike qualities — and the actors' doll-like appearances.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Items like Barbie's hair brush were exaggerated in scale to emphasize their toylike qualities — and the actors' doll-like appearances.

As we mentioned, there are no green screens in Barbie Land. So how do you go about making human actors look like toys in doll houses? Believe it or not, neither Katie nor Sarah grew up playing with Barbies. “We were deprived. It was very serious and we had no toys,” Katie joked. So they bought a Dreamhouse and assembled it. “We were playing with [it] and you go, ‘[Barbie] seems very big in this Dreamhouse.’ You know, she puts her hand up and she can touch the ceiling,” Sarah noted.

In lieu of bending the laws of nature and space to shrink Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and their fellow Barbies and Kens, the production team scaled the Dreamhouses to 23% smaller than average houses. “The cars are also 23% smaller; remember, whenever you’re playing with a Barbie, and you’re trying to put it in a car, it’s not going to [fit], it’s always kind of like slightly sticking out — and that’s just the nature of the toyness of it all,” Sarah explained. They also skipped walls; “Everything in Barbie Land is seen at all times,” Katie said. “It’s like Adam and Eve as well, isn’t it?” Sarah added. “There’s no shame.”

Blonde woman looks over the windshield of pink car.

Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie

Lighting the actors among Barbie Land's kaleidoscope of pinks was a challenge for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, since their proximity changed the appearance of the actors' skin.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Lighting the actors among Barbie Land's kaleidoscope of pinks was a challenge for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, since their proximity changed the appearance of the actors' skin.

What there is … is pink. How did they arrive at the pinks? “The samples started at what we now call millennial pink, which is like salmon pink, and they ranged all the way through, and there’s some down to what we call Mattel pinks which are very hard and bluey — and then somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot which is all of this [film’s palette],” Sarah said.

“So there [were these] beautiful pinks,” Katie continued, “but then when you put a pink next to another pink that color changed and then you put a fabric next to that, that changed completely. Then of course you have to think of all the skin tones and it was — it was a nightmare.”

Pink must be matched very, very carefully. “We made these swatches of the key 15 colors which everybody was [wearing], and we said, ‘Oh, is that a P12 or a P12A or is that a P7?’ because we all had to know. All the different departments had to know, from vehicles, construction, set [decoration], props, everything — [we] all had to know all the pinks because of how they went together, so that’s never been done before,” Katie said.

“They’re so much fun, to walk on these sets and get immediately lost in these play worlds that are now a reality,” said Will Ferrell, who plays Mattel’s CEO. “I mean, the only drawback will be I don’t know if this crew will ever want to see pink again.”

Barbie’s Bedroom

Pink heart-shaped bed with iridescent sequins and pink toss pillows.

Stereotypical Barbie's Dreamhouse Bedroom

Katie dressed Barbie's bed with an iridescent-paillete-spangled coverlet and button-tufted pink toss pillows.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Katie dressed Barbie's bed with an iridescent-paillete-spangled coverlet and button-tufted pink toss pillows.

“Working down from the top of the Dreamhouse, [in Stereotypical Barbie’s] bedroom where she wakes up on the perfect day, the bed itself was heart shaped so we made the headboard in reference to Botticelli’s Venus with that looking like she’s coming out of the shell,” Katie said. “Then there’s no lighting in Barbie Land, there’s no electricity, but we still wanted table lamps — so we found these amazing iridescent table lamps that we put on either side.” The bedroom also features a midcentury-inspired swivel chair with a kidney-shaped ottoman that bears a striking resemblance to one designed by Jonathan Adler (who has been “all up in Barbie’s grill for 15 years” in doll-sized and human-sized Barbie collaborations with Mattel, as he explains on HGTV’s Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge).

Barbie’s Entertaining Spaces

Pink room with curved pink sofa, pink ceiling, and pool.

Barbie's Dreamhouse Living Room

The table and floor lamps Katie's team created for Barbie's living room echo the curvaceous look of the doll-sized lamps Jonathan Adler created for Barbie's 50th anniversary.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

The table and floor lamps Katie's team created for Barbie's living room echo the curvaceous look of the doll-sized lamps Jonathan Adler created for Barbie's 50th anniversary.

There’s a very good reason why the cakes in Barbie Land look a bit like paintings and the painstakingly painted scenery looks a bit like cake: Greta Gerwig referred Sarah and Katie to the work of painter Wayne Thiebaud, a Sacramento native like herself, for inspiration. Thiebaud’s vivid, instantly recognizable still lifes of desserts combine delicate pastels and more saturated hues in ways that informed the film’s palette (and patisserie). Barbie would store those desserts in her Dreamhouse’s Palm Springs-inspired stone chimney breast, incidentally. “We thought, ‘Well, where are we going to put the fridge? We’ll put the fridge in the chimney breast’ — because you can, it’s a toy,” Katie said. “And the fridge door is actually part of the chimney breast! So there is a hidden door,” Sarah added.

Birds and B in Barbie Land

Pink cul de sac surrounded by four pink three-story houses.

The Dreamhouse Cul-de-Sac

The purple treehouse on the left side of the cul-de-sac is one of Sarah's favorite elements of the Barbie Land set design.

©© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

The purple treehouse on the left side of the cul-de-sac is one of Sarah's favorite elements of the Barbie Land set design.

There’s a distinctly avian accessory at each Dreamhouse on the cul-de-sac: “What I’ve always loved is American mailboxes, so each house had a different mailbox and it was in the shape of a bird,” Katie explained. "Margot got the flamingo, and then there was a heron and then there was a kingfisher, and then the back of the mailbox is also a charger for her car.” The iconic B motif that carries from embossed interior carpets to front door handles and beyond was drawn from the Barbie logo used from 1975 until 1991; “We loved that B,” Katie said.

Corkscrew fuchsia slide that ends in flat blue "pool."

Three-Story Spiral Barbie Dreamhouse Slide

Since there's no water in Barbie Land, Margot Robbie as Sterotypical Barbie can take a spin on her three-story water slide without a wardrobe change.

Photo by: © MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

© MATTEL. © 2023 WBEI.

Since there's no water in Barbie Land, Margot Robbie as Sterotypical Barbie can take a spin on her three-story water slide without a wardrobe change.

"We might not have had Barbies, but all these childish things that you want to do that you can put into the set — it’s just incredible because you can actually just create these amazing things that are just really, really good fun,” Sarah said.


“I think, working on Barbie, there was some infectious joy about it — and it filtered down, I think, from Greta,” Katie added. “She was always upbeat and her enthusiasm [for] the sets [and] the places transferred itself to the actors, the crew and everybody.”

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