Look closely into the stands of Tobey Maguire’s ”Seabiscuit,” above the flying dirt of horses racing, and you’ll see thousands of fans — and a fair share of inflatable mannequins. ”It completely fools the eye,” says star William H. Macy.
The mannequins were provided by the Inflatable Crowd Co., a new outfit based in Los Angeles and founded by 31-year-old Joe Biggins. For their cameos, the 7,000 torso-and-head combos were each inflated — in as little as 12 seconds apiece, with a motorized blower — then decorated with hand-painted masks, fedoras, and clothing.
Though the 1.1-pound creations were interspersed with actual people in the grandstands, director Gary Ross stresses that all the film’s close-up shots used real people as extras. However, he added, ”If you are a quarter of a mile away, they were useful in that it made it look like a full grandstand…. It just isn’t practical to have 20,000 extras a day that are way in the background.”
Biggins owns 15,500 of the Chinese-import inflatables and rents them out for about $15 per doll per week. He recently shipped 8,500 of them to England, where they are helping fill the crowd for the Kirsten Dunst tennis pic ”Wimbledon.”
But despite the budding business, Biggins says being the mannequin master comes with certain…connotations. ”I took a lot of joking on set for being the inflatable-doll guy.” (Additional reporting by Nick White)