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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 26, 2002

'XXX' takes art of deception to tattoos

By Susan Wloszczyna
USA Today

In the spy thriller "XXX," Vin Diesel is covered with so many tattoos it looks as if a graffiti artist mistook the bulky bruiser for an abandoned building.

Not one of Vin Diesel's tattoos in "XXX" is real.
But not one of the skin designs is the real deal.

Instead, they are the temporary creations of makeup master Christien Tinsley, 28, whose handiwork can also be seen crawling up Brad Pitt's left arm in "Ocean's Eleven" and decorating Sarah Michelle Gellar's bitten neck on TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He invented his time-saving Tinsley Transfers while on wound duty for 40 or so extras during the attack scenes in "Pearl Harbor."

A long and disjointed shoot demanded ingenuity. "The movie was shot out of continuity over 5 1/2 months," Tinsley says. "They did war sequences every other week."

So instead of painstakingly hand-painting the burns and cuts, Tinsley came up with the faux tattoos for consistency's sake and to hasten the process. The transfers are put on with water, and a medical-grade adhesive keeps them sticking for up to three days.

However, as challenging as "Harbor" was, "XXX" is Tinsley's Sistine Chapel, requiring 26 separate pieces to be applied to Diesel's chiseled body. Since tattoos are a major part of the extreme-sports culture, the movie's backdrop, they had to appear authentic as well as distinctive enough to adorn a daredevil athlete like Diesel's Xander Cage.

The actor, director Rob Cohen, tattoo designer Adrien Gallegos and Tinsley collaborated on the tough-guy trimmings. "Rob went after a sexy, appealing feeling with color. Vin was into the images and wording," Tinsley says. The resulting collage:

  • Three X's on the back of his neck.
  • Two guns crossed to form an X on the small of his back.
  • On his left arm, a tribal band on his bicep, a bull charging out of flames and clouds.
  • On his right arm, the words "dis" and "order" by his wrist, two eagle wings going up his arm, three stars on his elbow, a bull on his bicep, the word "chaos" on his forearm wrapped in blue filler.
  • A star with an eye in the middle on his right shoulder.
  • On his stomach, the word "Melkor," the name of Diesel's real-life "Dungeons & Dragons" character.
  • A chaos symbol on his bellybutton topped by flames.
  • A star around his right nipple.

The application process took up to three hours at first, but Tinsley cut it to under an hour by the end. He also did the elaborate dragon on the chest of the villain, New Zealand actor Martin Csokas. Asia Argento, the Italian actress who is Diesel's sulky foil, provided her own gallery of real tattoos.

Offscreen, Diesel remains a tattoo-free zone. "As an actor, I'm a canvas," he says. "That's the reality for me. I wouldn't be able to create new ones for each role. Besides, I don't know what I would get."

Tinsley, who is tattooless himself, just finished Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris," due Nov. 27, and is pasting scars on Russell Crowe for an upcoming nautical yarn (working title is "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World").

He provided tattoos for next year's "Matrix" sequels as well.

"It's cool stuff," he says. "They went with something very traditional." But he can reveal no more about the top-secret projects.

Non-actors who desire a tattoo minus the lifelong commitment can buy the fakes at tinsleytransfers.com for about $4 apiece. The most popular requests are retro styles — roses for women, peacocks and pinups for men. This fall, you'll be able to find Tinsley's work at Spencer Gifts stores.

Sorry, no "XXX" designs. Says Tinsley: "They're not licensed. We want to keep the illusion."