October 11, 2023-Kartik Nair

Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Temple University
“Crowds of Dust: Atmospheric Assemblage and the Contemporary Blockbuster”
ABSTRACT: Crowds are everywhere in contemporary blockbusters. This talk will explore why these assembled masses appear so often on screen, and how they do so. Crowds may be depicted onscreen as emerging spontaneously in response to spectacular story events; of course, they themselves are spectacular emblems for moviegoers to gawk at. This paper will focus on the Telugu blockbuster RRR (S.S. Rajamouli, 2022), and its evocation of the “dusty crowd”: an Indian public protesting British colonial rule, kicking up dust in agitation. While films like Gandhi (1982) assembled thousands of extras to simulate the dusty crowd on-screen, the dust and the mob are the same in RRR: they are both products of VFX interventions that simulate collective movements of particulate and people. Visual effects (VFX) create swarms by algorithmically multiplying digital figures (known as agents) and by blending these digital figures with real performers (in profilmic space). Comparing historical practices of “crowd work” in filmmaking to their regeneration in digital pipelines provides a unique opportunity to see how latent and long-lasting ideas about unruly publics become images: in this case, how a visual and imperial ideology of the crowd is shared, and shaped, between a film’s director, VFX supervisors, cinematographers, extras, and digital effects artists.