While Greta Gerwig leaned heavily into a retro, plastic aesthetic to make “Barbie” come alive, she also embraced the LED Volume for a feminine twist on Stanley Kubrick’s opening “Dawn of Man” sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

In fact, Gerwig embraced the new tech knowing full well how Kubrick sought the most up-to-date tools and methodologies to bring his vision of “2001” to life. “I remember her saying, ‘What would Kubrick do if he were alive today?” production VFX supervisor Glenn Pratt of Framestore told IndieWire. “And she very much was of the opinion — I think quite rightly — that he would’ve embraced that LED Volume as a tool to give you that small, nuanced, interactive lighting, which gives more complex results.”

For her “Dawn of Barbie” prologue, Gerwig cleverly replaces the prehistoric primates with little girls and the large monolith with Margot Robbie dressed as the original 1959 Barbie in a black-and-white swimsuit. The girls are inspired to smash their baby dolls and embrace the feminist doll of the future.

“We did study [the sequence] in close detail, and it was the key frames that Greta had picked out and had storyboarded,” added Pratt. “So those frames gave us a starting point, and then our previs team at Framestore set about lining up those images and lining up the appropriate lens sizes.” But they couldn’t replicate Kubrick’s original background skies because they were all different, so the team did the best it could with the 360-degree panoramas, assisted by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.

Opening scene of Barbie
“Barbie”Warner Bros.

“Rodrigo and myself would sit and watch ‘2001’ and look at all the skies and talk about what we could do,” Pratt said. “And eventually we arrived at telling the story that looked similar to Kubrick’s but a slightly different consistency so that it felt cohesive. So that was developed further and all put into the Volume and ready for when we were shooting it.”

The sequence was shot at Warner Bros. Studios’ Leavesden’s V Stage in the LED Volume. Robbie and the kids performed on a partial rocky outcrop set and the background imagery was projected on the LED screens surrounding the set. They seamlessly blended in-camera plates, layered matte paintings, CG geometry, and real-world foreground props. Then, in post, they did some tweaks, such as fixing the LED strobing as a result of shooting the smashing of the dolls at high frame rates for slow-motion effect.

Behind the scenes of Barbie homage to 2001 A Space Odyssey
“Barbie” Warner Bros.

In addition, they animated the giant Barbie monolith based on the original doll before cutting to a wide shot of a smiling, winking Robbie. “We actually went to Mattel and asked them for the original doll, if we could go and scan it, which they let us do,” Pratt said. “Which is actually the very one they have in their archive. We LIDAR scanned it and did photogrammetry. A lot of the patina had faded so we addressed the color. We shot Margot and the girls as different plates, but she was shot on blue screen in the Volume. She was composited back into the shots for the wide reveal shot when you first see her and she takes her sunglasses off.

“Greta always used the term ‘authentic artificiality,’ he added. “Embrace the plastic. She especially liked the use of miniatures, and they work intersected with the VFX. All of the physical miniatures were scanned and used as part of Barbie Land’s CG environment, helping form part of the film‘s visual language.”

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