"Warriors," says makeup artist Naomi Donne, who has created temporary tattoo art for numerous movies. That film was a revolutionary concept for makeup, it turned all of us in the industry around," says Donne. "And it set that whole fashion trend of very linear work in tattoos."
The movie, released in 1994, was based on the novel of the same name by New Zealand author Alan Duff. It followed an indigenous Maori family trying to make their way in urban Auckland; and various moko—traditional Maori tribal tattoos—appear throughout the film. Although the movie may have heavily influenced tattoo design, it certainly wasn't the first time ink was significantly featured on screen.
In 1969, the movie version of Ray Bradbury's book The Illustrated Man was released. For that film, actor Rod Steiger had to sit through hours of makeup each day to transform into the title character, who was covered in tattoos. It's rumored the film even holds a Guinness World Record for the film with the longest makeup application process each day, at 20 hours. Obviously, not many directors were up for the challenge of portraying tattoos extensively on film for some time after the movie came out.
That all changed with Tattoo, a 1981 film by Bob Brooks. Brooks came up with the story of a troubled tattoo artist who is obsessed with a model he meets on a job. In order to make the main character's tattoos realistic—and to decrease the amount of time needed for makeup—Brooks knew he would have to figure out another way to create temporary tattoos. So he approached famed chemist Dr. Samuel Zuckerman, who was best known for putting the stripe in Aquafresh toothpaste. Zuckerman developed a process using a wetink transfer that, when dry, became an extremely realistic sweat- and waterresistant design.
The process was a big step forward, but it only marked the beginning of innovation in the industry—there was still a long way to go. Donne remembers she was still using rubber stamps to create tattoos for films in the '80s. "We would design the artwork then make a rubber stamp out of it," she says. "I remember I did a snake dripping venom on Vanessa Redgrave years ago. I just had a stamp of the outline, and then I did all the work by hand." In those days, that would have meant painting with Aquacolor, a type of glycerin- and waterbased compact makeup. The tattoos looked decent on film, but the colors of the Aquacolor makeup were very intense, so it was hard to create the faded look of real ink under skin.
Luckily, Zuckerman hadn't stopped working on his temporary tattoos, and he eventually came up with a non-toxic cosmetic ink that could be used to print full-color transfers onto specially treated paper. The chemist's son, Roy Zuckerman, saw commercial potential for the technique and started the company Temptu to market and distribute the product to consumers and movie makeup artists.
One of the many makeup artists who have since used Temptu's transfers is Ilona Herman, who served as Robert De Niro's makeup artist for the 1991 film Cape Fear. To help turn De Niro into psychotic ex-convict Max Cady, Herman worked with Temptu to create a number of tattoos, many of which had a scrawled quality that somehow made the character seem even more crazy. De Niro's bulked-up physique probably had something to do with that psychotic
look, too. In fact, he put on so much muscle from the time he was first "fitted" for Temptu tattoos to the beginning of filming, that the company actually had to increase the size of the transfers 10 percent so they'd be more visible.