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August 26, 2015

The Telltale Tattoo

Body art is integral to the plot of a colorful new drama.

Paula Hendrickson

When developing the pilot for Blindspot — the new NBC drama about an alluring amnesiac found in Times Square, covered only in mysterious full-body tattoos — Martin Gero needed specific long-range plot points so clues could be incorporated into the body art.

“It had to be striking and iconic to the show,” Gero, Blindspot’s creator–executive producer, says of the artwork. “But it’s on a beautiful woman, so it had to be feminine and sexy as well, and not take away from her [beauty]. It was a real balance.”

Gero — who has no tattoos of his own — consulted tattoo artists, of course, as well as puzzle designers, mapmakers — even magicians.

“We knew it was going to be integral to pulling the whole thing off because the show’s about following a treasure map, and the map is the tattoos. Every week a different tattoo sends us on a different adventure, so we needed a design that could feed the story for at least a few seasons.”

When the pilot was picked up in January, graphic designer Richard Buoenik was brought in. “I handed over a file with about 500 pages of tattoo ideas that I’d been putting together since August,” Gero relates.

When Buoenik’s initial design was ready, Christien Tinsley of Tinsley Transfers, Inc., took over. “Christien and his team took it to the next level, mapped it to [actress] Jaimie Alexander’s body and created the applications.”

Gero won’t disclose exactly how the tattoos are affixed — it’s a propriety process, he says, that creates something like a second skin. During the 15-day pilot shoot, Alexander had to stand patiently for seven hours on four different occasions.

“She's such a champ to stand there naked for seven hours and have four people cover her with tattoos,” he says. “I was always asking if she was okay, and she'd say, ‘It's fine. We listen to the Beatles!’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, the Beatles are great, but standing for seven hours from three in the morning to be ready by noon is pretty nuts."

The process will get easier, he reports: “We’re hoping to get the full-body application down to about four hours, but the day-to-day look — mostly her neck and arms — takes under an hour.”

With most of the full-body art on display in the pilot, writers had to commit to key plot points early on.

“We left a little space to tweak occasionally, but there’s also stuff — like a fingerprint — hidden in really cool ways that we can assign to whatever case we want,” Gero enthuses.

And the upside to all of that early planning? “From a storytelling point, we have a really solid vision of what we want to do with the show. That gives us a jump that most first-season shows don’t have.”

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