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Aberdeenshire lead graphic designer uses childhood memories to shape ‘magical moments’ in Barbie

Lead graphic designer on the film, Alicia Grace Martin, said ironically she always preferred Ken growing up.

Barbie film designer, Alicia Martin along with a photo from the Barbie movie
Image: DC Thomson/ Pictures/? 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc/ Alicia Martin

While playing with Barbies as a kid, Alicia Grace Martin always preferred Ken.

Specifically the Shaving Fun Ken she was “obsessed with”.

As for Barbie, she usually ended up with her hair destroyed and on the cutting floor.

And while the graphic designer’s childhood “hairdressing” days are behind her, her love for the male doll still lives on.

Which is handy, given Ms Martin has been working on the billion-dollar Barbie movie.

Alicia Martin
Lead graphic designer on the film Barbie Alicia Martin at work. Image: Alicia Martin.

Ken was ‘kenough’

The iconic doll is now centre stage in the sell-out production which has sparked controversy and an array of pink worldwide.

Set in the bright and wonderful Barbie Land, it follows Margot Robbie as Barbie who travels to the real world after having thoughts of death and cellulite. Two big no-nos in Barbie Land.

In the film Ken – played by Ryan Gosling – also makes an appearance but feels mostly unappreciated.

Ryan Gosling as Ken in the Barbie film.
Ryan Gosling put a humorous spin on Ken’s character. Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Jaap Buitendijk.

Ms Martin said: “It’s a thing in the film where Ken is an undervalued character but weirdly, it was the Ken that I had growing up.

“I was more of a fan of the Ken rather than the Barbie.”

Spent most of production surrounded by Barbies

Memories from Ms Martin’s Christmas mornings in Oldmeldrum playing with her new Barbie toys have shaped some of the imaginative candy-coloured and nostalgic designs in the film.

Always so excited to put new stickers on the toys, Ms Martin said it was these moments that ended up inspiring a lot of the graphic design.

Working under designer Sarah Greenwood, who was in charge of architecture and set decorator Katie Spencer who focused on the interiors, Ms Martin was lead graphic designer for the hit film.

Alicia Martin as a child drawing
Alicia Martin at the kitchen table drawing as a child in Oldmeldrum. Image: Alicia Martin

“That’s often sort of anything that you see which is a graphic,” she said.

“The inspiration was the original toys, but also how you keep that childlike spirit to it. Making it seem original and lux but make it feel new.

“It was this idea when you have a toy when you were little and it has stickers so it was my idea to almost have it like sophisticated stickers.

“So when you open the fridge there’s a fridge sticker and then letters.

“If you had a toy it would be all plasticky and solid so letters couldn’t be opened, our newspapers were solid.”

Ms Martin admitted they spent most of the production being surrounded by Barbie dolls and toys.

For a scene where Ken gets medical attention from an ambulance, she said they took inspiration by folding and unfolding a Barbie toy ambulance.

She added: “It’s basically taking that inspiration of the fun element.

“What we ended up with in the film was a bit more of a beautiful version of what the toy was for the graphics.”

Was Barbie Land a real place?

When asked to point out her favourite part of the film, Ms Martin said: “I think the opening scene when it’s Barbie’s perfect day and then you’ve got Barbie’s not perfect day.

“She has two days and it’s almost a mirror scene.

“It’s a scene of her walking around her own Barbie house which is one of my favourite ones because you get to see everything almost come together in Barbie Land.

Barbie (Margot Robbie) looking out at Barbie Land
A lot of the Barbie Land set was physically made up. Image: prshots and PA

“I think what is impressive that maybe people wouldn’t realise watching it and what is quite magical about it, is actually how much we’ve made.

“The actors could really run around the space and everything.

“All of Barbie Land and the beach it looks so perfect, but a lot of it, if it’s not physically there, it’s physically painted as a backdrop. It’s quite amazing really.”

While it was the pull of fantasy that made the Inverurie Academy graduate swap from architecture to the film art department, the world of pink and child-like props has definitely been a change for her.

Ms Martin was the lead graphic designer on the medieval fantasy series House of the Dragon – a very different world to Barbie’s “crazy different pink fantasy world”.

“You walked into that studio and it was glowing and it was happy,” she said.

“Often when you work on period pieces they’re more darker and modern pieces can be quite sterile but this was bright and fun and joyful and that kind of extended to everyone working on it.”

Margot Robbie as Barbie holding letters
Margot Robbie with some of the designed letters. Image: Supplied by Alicia Martin.

Barbie movie was a dream job

With her Mojo Dojo Casa House now in Clapham Junction, Ms Martin made the journey to Aberdeen to watch the finished film with her family at Cineworld in Union Square.

Even they were not immune from taking photos inside the set up Barbie box.

Now back to medieval maps and books for season two of House of the Dragon, Ms Martin said it was hard to say goodbye to the pink dreamland.

“I just feel very lucky in terms of getting to do it the Barbie film,” she added. “It is almost kind of the exact amalgamation of all things – it’s fantasy, it’s fun, it’s really bright colours, it’s working with some absolutely amazing, originally thinking women as well.

“I feel really lucky to have worked in something that is kind of a dream job for me.”

Click here to see some of the designs made by Ms Martin and the team.