Race crowd pumped up for ‘Biscuit’

Guy's dolls fill seats as economical extras

Don’t worry about calling them airheads. Forget union rules, craft services and concerns about overtime.

These 7,000 extras are indefatigable. And inflatable.

When “Seabiscuit” had to recreate 1930s crowd scenes of grandstands overflowing with tens of thousands of horseracing fans, it faced the standard fee of $50-$60 per day per person. It was a sure ticket to cost overruns for an already less-than-foolproof proposition: a pricey period drama in the summertime.

That’s when the film’s assistant to the unit production manager Joe Biggins had a brainstorm that became a full-time business: inflatable dolls.

Universal, producing the pic with partners Spyglass and DreamWorks, was glad to save some coin.

But since it is pushing “Seabiscuit” as an early Oscar contender, U has been a little uptight about the chance moviegoers will spot the dolls. Consequently, it won’t release production photos of the dummies. It’s almost as if they are those kind of inflatable dolls.

“It’s a weird job because I’m supposed to create something that people aren’t supposed to notice,” Biggins shrugs.

In the nearly 12 months since Biggins made his first prototype, he has parlayed his idea into a viable business, the Inflatable Crowd Co. The outfit is already working on Kirsten Dunst tennis pic “Wimbledon” and is working on inflatable bodies for war films.The company now has 15,500 “employees” and the base rate for rental, setup, costuming and maintenance is about $15 per doll a week — compared with up to $300 per week for real people.

The dolls are life-sized, without arms or legs and attach to their seats. Using wires and rods, they can also be bent into lifelike positions. Because they can be deflated, they ship easily and it only takes 12 seconds to inflate three dolls at a time with a portable pump.

For “Seabiscuit,” the dolls were dressed in period hats and T-shirts that were made to look like suits. Live crowd members were mixed with the fake, and computer effects like clapping hands and waving arms were added later.

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