They're a directors dream: they don't get paid by the hour, they have
no problem working overtime, there's no need to feed them, and they
specialize in standing in a single place for hours at the time.
While many big budget blockbusters use CGI creations to create digital extras, some Hollywood titles are going low-fi by using painstakingly crafted inflatable dolls. Already seen in pictures such as Seabiscuit, Gridiron Gang, Changeling and the upcoming Angelina Jolie thriller S.A.L.T. (which used 500 of them) these dolls are a cheap and always reliable way to fill stadium stands for a sports movie or pack crowds into Grand Central Station.
In a recent New Yorker article, writer Peter Savodnik profiles Gail Boykewich, who oversees operations for Inflatable Crowd (a company specializing in providing custom dolls).
The dolls do have a drawback, it turns out: they can have interesting effects on the human extras working with them.
"An extra will look at an inflatable and say, 'This is freaking me out!' Or we hear tons of 'This is my girlfriend!' Or 'Why did you take my girlfriend away?' when you deflate them."
[Boykewich] went on, "Some of the extras get bored and mess with the dolls and steal their wigs, or cut the eyes out to be funny." When you spend hours making a doll camera-ready, she said, "it doesn't seem funny at all when an extra pretends that the dummy is giving him a blow job."