I’ve always wondered about scenes in films where large crowds are needed. Especially in older films, where they didn’t know anything about computer generated crowds or other special effects. I’m pretty certain that many scenes in epics like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur actually used thousands of extras.
Of course, there are alternatives to buying thousands extras or visual effects. Sometimes full-sized photos are used to fill crowds. I once heard that in A League of Her Own, director Penny Marshall was telling a crowd to move, only to find out that the spectators were just life-sized photos. I have no idea if that story is real, but I can imagine her embarrassment.
However, if you want your crowd to be three-dimensional, you might consider going with The Inflatable Crowd Company, which does just what its name implies.
The company has been used in such films as Seabiscuit, The King’s Speech, and The Fighter. Those are pretty low-budget films, but they have also been used in bigger-budget blockbusters like Iron Man 2 and Oceans 13. I take it many of the crowd scenes were a result of blow-up dolls that had wings and clothes.
It sounds hard to believe that this trick works, but as long as the long-shot angles look right, who can tell the difference? Next time I see a movie with a crowd in it, I will be looking for signs of the inflatables.