Movies Tattoos: The Process and the Progression

Movies Tattoos: The Process and the Progression

In Hollywood things are continually getting more realistic: the animation, the sound, the CGI! And fake tattoos are no exception. Back in the day tattooing wasn’t as popular as it is today and it was less likely to see actors sporting beautiful pieces of body art. In the early days of film, even if they wanted the actor adorned with body art, the process was difficult and time consuming – not to mention annoying; Makeup artist, with limited materials, would draw the tattoo on with regular stage make-up and had to struggle with constant running and smudging. The result: a super fake looking tattoo.

Rod Steiger as Carl in The Illustrated Man (1969)

Things improved a little in the 70s when a skin paint was invented that was much less of a hassle – due to being water and sweat resistant — and created much more realistic tattoos. The one drawback: they had to be applied by hand still, in a long, laborious fashion; we’re talking hours and hours or work to apply or touch up actor’s stage tattoos. Almost like getting a real tattoo.

But Hollywood kept improving its skills set and tattoos kept gaining in popularity. Soon, Hollywood presented us with some of the coolest most realistic tattoos ever. We all remember Angelina Jolie’s tattoos in “Wanted” don’t we? They put fake tattoos next to her real ones, and the difference was unrecognizable. People had to Google “Angie’s tattoos in Wanted, which ones were real?”

Once Were Warriors (1994)

So how did they pull this off? Nowadays professional temporary tattoos are made for the movies. They are a lot like the ones you wore as a child, where you applied the sticker and patted it with water; except Hollywood’s are, like, way better. They call these: transfers.

Pearl Harbor is the movie we can thank for the big breakthrough in transfers. On set they were challenged with having to supply extras with numerous wounds, and that job was looking like a ridiculous amount of work that was going to cost them huge amounts of time and money. Enter creativity!  We have seen transfers on Vin Diesel in XXX as well.


Reign of Fire (2002)

Transfers made for the movies are larger than you think they need to be, as they need to be obvious and recognizable from afar, so they don’t just look like a smudge of dirt on someone’s arm. As both versions (real and fake) of tattooing improve, it’s fun to see this incredible art form being embraced.

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