NEW YORK CITY — FuseFX (fusefx.com) was one of the visual effects studios that provided services for Barbie, which was 2023’s most successful film, taking in more than $1.4B worldwide since its debut last July. The Warner Bros. feature was directed by Greta Gerwig, and stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, who explore how real people live outside of Barbie Land. The studio primarily focused on the cubicle set extensions within the Mattel headquarters, as well as the glass reflections at the top floor, where the executives gather in the boardroom.
To create an endless corporate office environment, the team used practical cubicle Lidar scans and tiled them. Noh and the FuseFX team also worked on creating a range of matte paintings, set clean-ups, crowd work and bluescreens to help enhance the film’s storytelling.
Here, Josephine Noh provides insight into FuseFX’s contributions to Barbie.
Josephine, can you go into detail on the work you and your team did on the movie?
“My team and I at FuseFX NY mostly worked on the shots of the ‘real world’ of Los Angeles, where Barbie explores how ‘real’ people live outside of Barbie Land, and where she meets the Mattel executives at their headquarters. The bulk of the work was the cubicle set extensions within the Mattel headquarters and the glass reflections at the top floor, where the executives gathered in the boardroom.
“The CG cubicles were based on the practical cubicle Lidar scans, and they were tiled to give the effect of an endless corporate office environment. There was no glass on-set for the boardroom reflections work, so we created CG glass and rebuilt most of the set in CG, which was also based on the Lidar scans. We then composited the CG reflections over the span of 60 shots at 25 unique angles. Our other tasks were a range of matte paintings, set clean-ups, crowd work, and bluescreens to help enhance the storytelling of Barbie.”
Can you talk a bit about the Lidar scans and how they were used to created the vast office space?
“The Lidar scans from Clear Angle Studios were very helpful. We used them to build the CG cubicle model and place it in the same layout as the practical cubicles used for the shoots. It ended up being around 150 CG cubicles that we created and lined up to the practical 16 cubicles. There was a separate shoot for the additional office workers, and we used those plates to populate the extended CG areas with people. For the final look, we comp’ed the environment to fade to black to reach the desired bleak tone.”
Tell us about the matte paintings and crowd work?
“We created a matte painting of the Mattel headquarters, nestled in the downtown LA skyline. We also did some set extension work and crowds for the Supreme Court scene by making the curtained walls endless and adding extras to fill the empty spaces in the environment.”
What are some of the VFX tools that you used on a film like this?
“We used Nuke for compositing, Maya for CG, and SynthEyes for tracking. They’re generally traditional software, so there is nothing unique to add in.”
Do you have a favorite sequence that you’d call attention to?
“I enjoyed working on the Mattel cubicle scenes. It was entertaining and comical to see Will Ferrell’s character and the other Mattel executives chasing down Barbie. I’m glad we played a supporting role in making the environment look bleak against Barbie’s bright pink presence. I also enjoyed the ‘Dancing Kens’ scene. Our work on it was mainly clean-ups and simple set extensions, but we knew this scene would be highly entertaining and should look flawless.”
Can you explain your workflow?
“Every morning, I would regroup with my core team - Anna Kelman, John-Michael Buban, Kelsey Melnick, and Kyle Anderson - to discuss the day’s agenda. Usually, the rest of the day consisted of reviewing shots, speaking to the artists to walk them through the directions, testing looks and prepping deliveries.”
What is your setup like?
“I work partially from home, so on those days, I remote into my office machine and work with my dual monitors. When I go to the office, I have a similar setup, but with a fantastic view of Downtown Brooklyn and the East River, so that’s the big perk compared to working from home.”
What would you say were some of the biggest challenges on this project?
“The main challenge was figuring out the reflections for the Mattel boardroom. The final look was the result of many tests, and it was a blend of creative and technical interpretations of how the CG glass interacted with the practical boardroom environment. Once the look was locked in, the next challenge was applying it to all 60 shots and keeping it consistent across the 25 unique angles. Though the work was more subtle, this experience was a great learning moment for me.”