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“If the audience didn’t believe in the tattoos, we were dead before we even began,” says director Guy Nattiv of “Skin,” a reality-based drama about white supremacist Bryon Widner, who renounced those beliefs and his body-covering markings.
So Nattiv tapped Emmy-winning makeup maestro Stephen Bettles for the job — a massive project that Bettles says required 14 face and 39 body tattoos just for actor Jamie Bell, who stars as Widner. Working on an indie budget, Bettles created 175 hand-drawn designs that often had to be reapplied daily on a cast that included Bell, 12 other principals and up to 165 additional characters.
Script - Breakdown - Pages - Makeup - Notes
“I got the original script and did a breakdown of 51 pages of makeup and tattoo-related notes,” says the British-born, L.A.-based Bettles. “That’s about five times the amount you’d normally see. Saying this was the most extensive job I’ve ever had — that’s putting it mildly.”
Bettles, who won an Emmy in 2002 for “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story,” is well-versed in special-effects makeup. He runs his own studio, Stevie FX, and has two patents on a “silicone appliance that’s like a three-dimensional Band-Aid” — a prosthesis that cuts application time down exponentially. In “Skin,” Bell wears one of Bettles’ patented prosthetics; instead of spending 45 minutes to apply it, the artist says it took 10.
Time - Nuances - Body - Ink - Tattoo
That left more time to consider the nuances of the body ink, which was applied like a temporary tattoo and sealed with water-based lacquer. The images reflect the real-life tattoos once worn by Widner, who supplied pictures of his designs to help with accuracy and replication.
But matching Widner’s tattoos involved more than just sticking hand-drawn art on bodies. For one thing, Bell’s body shape...
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