Tattoo Mike: The Illustrated Man

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


A young artist with a fatal medical condition comes to New York City to have his face tattooed so he can live the life of a carnival sideshow performer, years before a sideshow exists to perform with.


As a boy of 10, Michael Whisenhunt was diagnosed with brittle diabetes and told he would be lucky to see 25.  As a young man in the early 80’s he came to New York where tattooing was banned and the tradition of carnival sideshow as popular entertainment had died.  With the fearlessness that comes with the certainty of a brief life, Michael Whisenhunt illegally had his face tattooed and took on the persona of Michael Wilson the Illustrated Man, joining the cast of the reborn sideshow at Coney Island, and as a public figure popularized the acceptance of tattoo in mainstream culture.


The grit and glamour of 1980’s downtown New York City is the setting of Michael Wilson’s biography told through sit down interviews, animated sequences, historical and archival footage including Michael’s appearances on talk shows like Geraldo, music videos for Bruce Springsteen, and as a fashion model for Vogue.  Interviews are presented in black and white as a creative device to delineate between the present and past and generates a more visceral impact when Michael appears on the screen radiating the color in his skin.  Animation will be used to depict key stories about Michael’s life for which no archival material exists.  Animation will be created digitally using hand painted illustrations as a base.  Although there are moments in Michael’s life of great turmoil and sadness the overall goal is to share the legacy of a great artist that changed popular culture forever through his personal creative exploration.  It's a story that is inspiring and upbeat and will leave the audience feeling like they are blasting along the old wooden tracks of the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island on a warm summer day by the beach.


Ethan Hill - Director

DIRECTOR | DP - Ethan Hill is a film maker based in New York work- ing on his first movie about Michael Wilson, Illustrated Man from the Coney Island Sideshow. Previous work experience includes over 20+ years as an award winning portrait photographer in the magazine business. A partial client list includes Entertainment Weekly and New York Times. He is an instructor at the Interna- tional Center for Photography and has work included in the per- manent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Rob Hewitt - Typographer

Rob Hewitt is an award winning creative director who specializes in magazine design and has held positions at GQ, New York Magazine, and Dwell. His acute historical knowledge of editorial typography trends and graphic design are a major asset to the overall look and feel for TATTOO MIKE, recreating America’s sec- ond golden era of magazine design in the late 80s and 90s [Michael Wilson’s time] for this film. Rob is currently a designer at Pentagram and maintains an independent studio at In 2019, Rob also founded and launched OH—SO Equal, the first independent news-stand publication of its kind that celebrates the global celebra- tion of Women’s Skateboarding!

George Larkins - Motion Graphics

George Larkins is a motion graphics an- imator, visual artist, writer and educator living and working in New York and Paris. He has collaborated with artist Nadia Coen and The Inclining Experiment. His creative approach reflects an interest in light, film, sound, type and 3D imag- ery in a reflection on the very nature of the perception of reality. | @blackballpictures

Jason Holley - Animation Painter

Jason Holley is an illustrator, educator, and exhibiting artist living in Los Angeles. His illustration career spans 25 years and he is widely recognized for his in- fluence and contribution to the field. Clients include: MTV, New York Times, and Random House. He has been a member of the faculty at Art Center College of Design since 1997 where is is an Associate Professor.

Bryce Hackford - Composer

Producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and DJ, Bryce Hackford is a singular artist who works across many mu- sical styles, from dance and abstract electronics to rock, con- sistently employing sensual intuition, improvisation, and deep listening. ‘Safe (Exits)’, his latest solo album (2020) is available on most digital platforms, along with contributions to the recent Parquet Courts 12” single ‘Plant Life’ (Rough Trade) and Genetisis LP collaboration with Brian Close, Ka Baird and Jimmy Tamborel- lo.


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