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Plastic Fantastic: Inflatable Crowds in Movies

Not every movie has a budget that can afford a cast of thousands. CGI (Computer-generated imagery) may easily recreate a seamless and swarming crowd of actors at a director's beck and call, but the CGI process is often complicated, time-consuming and expensive. This brings to mind the film The Lord of the Rings and its magnificent armies at war, of which the crowd scenes took months and years to simulate.

But how about in the case of low-budget or independent movies? Sometimes a script may call for a crowd scene essential to its narrative storyline. A producer would be shaking his head at the cost of the Union fees and man-hours, at the thought of hiring hundreds of extras for a crowd shoot such as a baseball game, court hearing or parade.

So here come the Plastics! The newest stars to crowd around any movie genre. These artificial actors can stay motivated until the final take sans the diva attitude.

What's amazing is that they're made lightweight polypropylene plastic or another thermoplastic material called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The plastic crowd do come in all body shapes , sizes and skin tone, they can easily fit right into any wardrobe or period costume. Just inflate them and they're ready for a take. Unfortunately, close-ups are a no-no with the inflatable crowd for obvious reasons.

These collective inflatable extras have appeared in over a hundred feature films that many of us have actually seen. If you bother to take a closer look at the scenery of some award-winning films such as The King’s Speech, Angels & Demons, Salt, Contagion and Spiderman 3 you might even spot an unbelievably life-like inflatable figure sitting cozy or playing dead in the background.

These popular PVC-made extras, cost about a $230 a day for filming. According to an inflatable specialist, the plastic crowd can save up to 90 per cent of shooting costs- “When film scripts are put together in this country they tend to shy away from big crowd scenes. Extras have to be paid, transported, put up in hotels and fed... But we don’t want to put extras out of work – the only way the inflatable crowd works is if real people are interjected among the dolls. We create the mass and extras provide the life by moving or cheering.”

The only downside to these plastic extras is when the weather goes all crazy on set, that is, if a gust picks up then you got a whole crowd of plastic actors thrown around the air, missing their marks in the movie.

The author recycles everyday plastics and collects reusable cellophane bags.

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