Prior to X-Men 2, the tattoos I was asked to do for films tended to be the stereotypical gang members and criminals. I am very grateful that I was finally given the opportunity to express the essence of tattoo as a spiritual healing art that realigns body, mind and soul, in X-Men 2.
In 2002 was first approached about designing tattoos for the Nightcrawler character in the movie, X2: X-Men United by the special effects artist and president of FXSmith. Gordon Smith, who asked if there was a way to come up with a visible tattoo concept for the Nightcrawler character. If I could come up with something convincing to more acceptable to the Marvel fan base (especially since one of the producers was Marvel). Gordon would then pitch the tattoo concept to Bryan Singer and the producers of the X2 movie.
Initially, I was unfamiliar with the Nightcrawler character or the Marvel Universe, for that matter. I consulted with our web guy, Tim, who was a self processed Marvel comic geek, who gave us the complicated back store of Nightcrawler, which served as a prod to his adoption of Catholicism that eventually led him to become a priest. I told Gordon that painted tattoos would not show up in a realistic way on his blue black skin. I suggested that an etched scarified effect, inspired by the traditional Maori moko would show up well and would give an added dimension if it were implied in the narrative that his wounds were self-inflicted.
My challenge was to create a tattoo design that reflected the psycho-spiritual dimension of the character who was Roman Catholic and spoke High German. My wife Raven suggested angelic sigils (i.e. signatures) that would reflect the Nightcrawler’s faith, combined with alchemical symbols that emphasized his spiritual conflict because of his outward demonic appearance and sulphurous smell. The pain of the scarification would be the “penance” that would purify the supplicant while the angelic and alchemical symbols of the tattoo would act as shapes to transmute the "sins" the Nightcrawler character believed he had committed. The apparently opposing forces of spirit and the material would be balanced and integrated into one harmonious expression of wholeness in the tattoo.
Initially Bryan Singer and his committee wanted only half of Nightcrawler’s face tattooed. After he saw my drawings, however, and heard our proposal, he decided on the whole face, and, later, the upper torso and arms. The writers had to rewrite parts of the script to incorporate the Nightcrawler’s tattoos in a new backstory of the character.
Gordon’s special effects team made casts of Alan Cumming’s face, torso and arms and I mapped the designs on the casts. I was later told that Alan found the whole plaster cast experience claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing; the FX team had to prematurely pull it off his face. Fortunately, the plaster cast stayed in one piece.
Please also enjoy a slide show of my collection of images of Nightcrawler tattoo designs and finished effect.