Live Action Tattoos: The Next Ink Evolution?

The art of tattooing is constantly evolving. Just look back at the simplistic Sailor Jerry tattoos compared to the hyper realistic portraits and three-dimensional designs being created nowadays. What’s next, you might wonder — how about bringing a tattoo to life by combining skin art with digital special effects?

That’s exactly what tattoo artist Lee Rowlett, of Mama Tried Tattoo Parlour, in Louisville, Kentucky, accomplished with a tattoo that utilizes a video technique known as chroma key or green screen.

The tattoo features Rick and Morty looking into the portal they often use for their inter-dimensional adventures in the cartoon series. The portal portion of the tattoo is saturated with green, which viewed through a smart phone will show actual clips from the show.

“It makes sense for this generation when it comes to tattoos. It’s a really big digital age right now— people are very visual,” Rowlett says.

Chroma key isn’t new to movies and TV. Ironman flying through the sky or the weather lady standing in front of a moving weather pattern — you get the idea. By singling out a particular color in an electronic image and then using computer software to make that color transparent, another image can be made to show through.

The green screen doesn’t actually have to be green — it can be any color as long as there are no others the same in the scene. The actual green used in most Hollywood effects is a Disney paint color called Gamma Sector Green. It is used because it’s rarely seen in real life.

Rowlett found that green and blue are the best colors for achieving the effect in a tattoo. Using a tone like brown or red, he explains, can be too close to skin tone, and can ruin the effect.

“If a person has a blotch of red on their skin, it might show the video in that area rather than just in the actual tattoo,” Rowlett says.

Once the tattoo is done, Rowlett uses an app, such as Green Screener, Chromavid or KineMaster, to produce the video that will appear within the design and gives the client a link to that footage. It’s actually pretty simple — with most apps you just take a picture of the design, select the area of color to create a mask in which the video will appear.

Rick and Morty wasn’t the first green screen tattoo. Denver tattooer Josh Herman did one of a TV set with a green “screen” that plays videos. The one the inspired Rowlett was a portrait of a girl wearing mirrored sunglasses where the reflections in the lenses were created by the effect. Rowlett has also done a green screen version of the Game of Thrones logo that shows the opening sequence from the show.

Rowlett says that green screens work best as small tattoos rather than something like a full sleeve — it’s easy to see why. Who would want an entire green arm? It’s still a tattoo and needs to holdup as such.

Since the Rick and Morty portal has gone viral across the web, Rowlett has received requests for Harry Potter tattoos that incorporate the green screen effect. That actually makes a lot of sense, because a wand can cast a spell that is created within the green area, and many of the mirrors, books maps, and newspapers within the wizarding world feature live action scenes.

“Honestly, I figured people would like it but not to this extent,” Rowlett told Buzzfeed News. “It was good to see that most of the responses were positive. A few negative ones but that’s OK. I understand it’s not something everyone’s going to be into. My favorite responses were the ones from people that thought the tattoo actually moved in real life. They were pretty funny.”


Dan Kelley

Name? Dan Kelley Shop? Skull and Snake Tattoo Studio Art Gallery Location? North Berwick, Maine. Years Tattooing? 10. Specialty? Black and Grey/Color realism Preferred inks



  Name? Rick Meggison, AKA Flipshades Shop? Full gypsy. I’ve been doing nothing but travel and tattoo for the last three years. #Tattourist! Residencies Iron


Cody Gower

Name? Cody Gower Shop? Against the grain tattoo Location? Smyrna TN Age? 30 You’re only 30 years, old, yet you’ve already been tattooing for 11



Name? — Aarika, AKA “Beetlejuice,” AKA “Beju” Shop name? — Tattoo Obscura/Traveler Location?– Anywhere, but mostly Janesville, Wisconsin. Years tattooing? — 11 – – –