In next week's release of Divergent, the tattoos are more than body art, each tattoo is a character statement, a declaration of what's meaningful and important to each member of the faction.
The New York Post reports that the production designer Andy Nicholson (Oscar-nominated for his work on Gravity), worked with director Neil Burger to create the tattoos for Divergent. They developed a rules guideline, their 'bible of the future' that dictated the look of the characters' tattoos. They needed to strong but simple symbols that the young society would be able to create themselves - remember Ryan Gosling?
The designer told the Post “We weren’t trying to reinvent tattoos, but these have a certain naiveté about them. It was very much about [the Dauntless] world.”
The three birds on Tris' (Shailene Woodley) upper chest represent her mother, father and brother. The makeup team used Woodley's moles as reference points, enabling the consistent application throughout the film. The tattoos were printed on adhesive-backed cellophane and applied very much like temporary tattoos.
Theo James' back took three people, three hours to 'tattoo'; luckily Four doesn't go shirtless throughout the entire film - did I say luckily? For his tattoo, makeup department head Brad Wilder applied about 40 numbered tatts that fit together like an interlocking puzzle on the actor's back.
You can see the flames representing bravery in the Dauntless tattoo on James' upper left side.