Barbie DP reveals unique approach to building Barbie Land

Rodrigo Prieto delves into the details from camera choices to building miniature sets

By Gabriella Geisinger 7 Sep 2023

Barbie DP reveals unique approach to building Barbie Land
Barbie; Cr: WB

Barbie's production design has rightly been getting a lot of kudos since the film's debut. 

Filmed mostly in London at Warner Bros' Studio Leavesden, Barbie's director of photography Rodrigo Prieto cited the talent of local craftspeople and crews in being able to create a surreal but also believable environment that achieved a cinematic visual aesthetic, and described the cameras and techniques he used  to achieve the grounded but artificial aesthetic. 

Speaking to The Wrap, Prieto said that one big challenge of virtual production on soundstages was the lighting, which he didn't want to create the sense that the actors were "stage bound."

"One of our first decisions was that every day in Barbie Land has to be sunny," he said. In order to achieve this, he had to make sure the sun was backlighting every actor at every angle. "It meant having a lot of big fixtures, in this case they’re called soft suns, and we had them rigged on different corners of the stages and then we have another one on a lift." The goal was to make it feel like real exterior lighting, not artificial.

But Prieto also had to consider the nature of Barbie Land, not just its look. "[B]ecause Barbie Land is innocent.... We didn’t want to make the camera angles oblique and funky, it just has to be innocent and frontal. And the camera moves on tracks lateral or frontal, so the lighting had to be high-key, which is a stretch as a cinematographer."

Prieto told The Wrap he used the Alexa 65, a camera with a big sensor, to achieve a sense of dimensionality and a slightly shallow depth of field in order to convey a surreal artificial-ness to the world, as if it is a model-village of sorts. This allowed the world to be both artificial and genuine at the same time. 

Of course, the sheer volume of pink colour presented its own challenges. "Anytime I turned on the backlight, the bounce on the faces was pink, so all the actors looked magenta." To counter act this, Prieto says they covered everything not on camera in grey "That way it was bouncing some light, but it wasn’t tinted with colour."

Another element that had to be overcome was the crew and craftspeople needed to build the miniatures, of which there were many including the wide shot of Weird Barbie's house, and the cul-de-sac where Barbie’s Dreamhouse is located. Visual Effects artists then scanned those miniatures to use as CG models.

"Everything was completely handmade, and that was beautiful for everybody and it gave the space for the actors to improvise stuff because they were seeing it, it wasn’t a blue screen," says Prieto. "They were actually seeing dolphins, they were seeing the cut-out mountains. So it was great fun. Pretty challenging, but fun."

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