Empty Handed Fists

Empty Handed Fists is part of a senior project by Jason Outenreath. Jason’s project, like mine, consists of a number of different elements including cinematography for other films, a primarily spanish-language film he made during his study abroad in Mexico, and Empty Handed Fists, a short film using only non-student actors.  Since Jason only returned from Mexico at the start of spring semester, we were not able to spend the fall semester in pre-production as I had with the other filmmakers. Due to the short notice, and the type of makeup required, I agreed to join the project as the Special Effects Makeup Artist.

The most important element of the makeup was a prison tattoo worn by the main character, visible throughout most of the film. The tattoo had to look like it was done in prison, but serve as a reminder to the character about his past life, which he was trying to change for the sake of his young daughter.  I found out about Jason’s first shoot and the tattoo on the day of the shoot, and had just a few hours to research, design, draw, and make a stencil for the tattoo ( to ensure no continuity errors in later shoots).  I researched prison tattoos for content and style. A prison tattoo has to look improvised and hand-drawn. They are primarily done with ink from pens, giving them that distinctive blue color, and are often very linear in form due to their amateur nature and the time constraint of having to work on them when the guards are not looking. Many prison tattoos are intended to show pride in what one is imprisoned for, commemorate the lost time, or show gang affiliation. Since the character’s time in prison was a turning point in his life, an experience that inspired him to change his life and try to realize his dream of becoming a police officer, it was important that the tattoo convey an almost opposite message to what is typical.  It needed to serve as a reminder of his time in prison without glorifying it. I decided to go with a simple cross; religious symbols are not uncommon in prison tattoos and the cross could be to remind the character that God is watching and that he must stay on the right path. Once I settled on this, I drew a quick design in my sketchbook, traced it on wax paper so I would have a way to ensure that the dimensions would be exact for each shoot. To apply the tattoo, I sprayed the actor’s arm with alcohol and pressed the tracing up against it to give a bit of an outline of the tattoo dimensions. With the framework in place, I mixed a translucent grey-blue color in my Stacolor alcohol-activated palettes and painted on the tattoo. The translucent nature of the paint allowed the color to look as if it was coming from underneath the skin, as opposed to having been painted on top of it.

Tattoo in Empty Handed Fists

Tattoo in Empty Handed Fists

The other effects for the film were fairly basic. When the main character and his boss were in the kitchen of the restaurant where they work, they had to look sweaty. The lead also injured himself twice- an on-screen cut from the knife he was washing, and bloodied knuckles from punching a wall. I also did a little tromp l’oeil-style painting to make the smooth white wall look as if it had been punched hard enough to make the man’s knuckles bleed (I used makeup to do this, of course).

boss in empty handed fists

Boss in Empty Handed Fists

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~ by alanigauntmakeupdesign on April 18, 2010.

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