31 August 2011

Blow Up Dolls Taking Over the Movies, Real Life?


For some movie producers, the cheapest way of filming a large stadium crowd is to populate the seats with blow-up dolls. More realistic than cardboard cut-outs -- but cheaper than human extras or computer generated crowds -- the blow-up dolls fill an important role in movies that call for a human crowd.
The Inflatable Crowd is a Santa Monica company that supplies seas of lifelike blow-up dolls to films like Iron Man 2, The Fighter, and Contagion. Outsourcing the role of “background actors” to inanimate objects isn’t new, of course; producers have used cardboard cutouts in the past. But those two-dimensional performers severely limit usable camera angles. And adding a CG crowd can cost $50,000 per scene. Inflatables look real and are affordable, with a day rate starting at just $10 per head, roughly a tenth the typical rate for a human extra. (Plus, they guarantee a shorter lunch line at craft services.) Joe Biggins, founder of the Inflatable Crowd, has been pimping his dolls to movies since 2003. Sometimes the job is small—he used a mere 1,500 dummies in the opening scene of The King’s Speech. But to make a stadium come to life in Flags of Our Fathers, Biggins filled the seats with 5,000 inflatables, then interspersed about 750 real people to provide a little natural motion. He keeps a Gardena warehouse stocked with some 30,000 dolls, 27,000 masks, and thousands of wigs and costumes to suit any time period. Packing for a big shoot can take a week (he has to brush all the hair and iron all the clothes), and it takes a six-person crew 10 hours to get 1,000 of the airheads into their seats. _Wired
Economically, it makes sense, and I would expect to see more of this sort of thing. Making a blow-up doll that is capable of simple movements such as hand-waving, clapping, standing and sitting, etc. is a matter of cheap and simple pneumatics. There are a number of other simple and inexpensive modifications that would turn simple blow-ups into sophisticated people surrogates.

Blow-up dolls could be made to look much more like real people, with realistic hair, skin tone and texture, and subtle sound and motion effects. As personal substitutes, blow-up dolls could become a valuable part of any person's everyday toolkit. Teenagers, for example, could use surrogate blow-ups (that snore) to reassure parents that they are sound asleep in bed, when they are actually out partying. A husband could pose his blow-up in his workshop or under the hood of his car, while he himself is off watching the game and drinking beer with his buddies. Workers could perch their blow-ups inside work cubicles, uttering occasional expletives, while they themselves are attending to personal business or drinking in the corner bar. You get the idea -- the trend being toward something like what was portrayed in the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates.

Generally, blow-up dolls are thought of as sex toys. There is nothing wrong with sex toys, as such. But in societies which are uncomfortable with human sexuality, sometimes criminal prosecutors take sex toys far too seriously and make fools out of themselves.

Russians, on the other hand, appear to treat blow-up dolls in the appropriate light hearted manner, using them as flotation devices for the annual Bubble Baba Challenge river race.

The advantage of blow-ups is their low price. The more sophisticated and life-like surrogates become, the more expensive and less like blow-ups they will grow.

The ultimate surrogate might be one that could stand in for President Obama at press conferences, so that he could get in a few more holes of golf. In that case, you might say that American voters were getting 2 presidents for the price of 1. And when you come to think of it, it doesn't really require much intelligence to read from a teleprompter in front of a crowd of sycophantic press drones. They could even replace the reporters with blow-ups. Truly cut-rate models would suffice, in the case of the White House press corps.

It is easy to imagine university lecture halls with blow-up professors lecturing to amphitheatres full of blow-up students, and university bureaucracies teeming with administrative blow-up overbloat, in keeping with the rapidly inflating costs of higher education.

There is no telling where this trend may end. Entrepreneurs should stand ready to meet nascent demand.

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