Detectives Follow Footprints

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Ace Dick is a very good detective. How do we know this? He can follow the obvious trail of footprints directly to the culprit!

Much like Thief Bag is about an image summarizing a profession, someone following footprints (preferably with a magnifying glass) is a detective or investigative sort. A common gag in cartoons is for the character to pick up one of the footprints for a better look or to end up following their own footprints around.

This trope is pretty common in children's media.


Examples:

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     Comic Books 
  • Donald Duck comics also get a lot of playing with this trope. For instance, the comics have a whole subtrope for characters exploiting the trope, knowing they are being followed and manipulating the footprints to mislead the pursuers.
  • Tintin: Thompson and Thomson once thought they were saved from the desert when they found car tracks. It never occurs to them as they find ever more tracks and even a jerrycan that they might be following their own tracks (even when they find the jerrycan, they celebrate their good fortune since they find out they've lost their own).

     Fan Works 
  • Played straight in The Lion King Adventures, where Simba and Haiba simply follow Shocker's paw prints to find him in his debut story.

     Film 
  • The Pink Panther. In the animated intro to the first Pink Panther movie, the detective is following the Panther's footprints offscreen. The Panther rushes back the other way, wiping his prints with a broom as he does so.

     Literature 
  • The Sherlock Holmes stories showcase Holmes' ability to ascertain several physical traits and describe the actions/mindset of the perpetrator of a crime by analyzing the footprints at a crime scene - in fact, Holmes claims to have published several papers on the subject.
  • Hercule Poirot, on the other hand, has been known to disparage other detectives by saying they spend all their time running around looking at footprints, when all they need to do is stop and think for a moment.

     Live Action Television 
  • Oddly enough, used in Sherlock in The Reichenbach Fall. A kidnapped child splashes a chemical that glows under ultraviolet light, which Sherlock deduces by smell and the boy's collection of spy novels. The ultraviolet reveals the footsteps of the kidnapper, who stepped in the liquid, and while the trail of course dries up not too far down the hall, it does provide Sherlock with the man's height, gait, stride etc.
  • In the original series of V, a tracker is called in by the aliens. He wears an Eyepatch of Power containing sensors which pick out a (thermal?) image where our heroes have walked, tracking them to an Abandoned Warehouse.

     Newspaper Comics 

     Video Games 
  • A series of sidequests in Epic Mickey, given to you by the detective, involves you following footprints to the same guy every time, where you have to buy back stolen objects.
  • Happens in Chrono Trigger when your gate key is stolen by reptites. The section of the game is even called "Footsteps! Follow!".
  • The introduction scene of Agent Jayden in Heavy Rain sees him following a footprint trail (among other things).
  • In Lego City Undercover, Chase can use the blacklight feature on his communicator to find and follow hidden footprint trails that lead to hidden items.

     Web Comics 
  • Eight Bit Theater has a non-detective example, where Fighter shows off his tracking skills by describing the footprints he's following. They're his and Black Mage's own trail.

     Western Animation 
  • A constant trope in Scooby-Doo.
  • Daffy Duck short The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. While Daffy (Duck Twacy) is inside a house, he follows foot prints (using a magnifying glass) up a wall, across the ceiling and down to a mouse rat hole.
  • The intro animation to Sylvester And Tweety Mysteries features this very prominently.
  • In one Winnie-the-Pooh story, Pooh is following a set of tracks on the snow, wondering who or what made them. Piglet joins him, and soon discover a second set of tracks. Then they keep going and find two more set of tracks. What they don't realize is that they've been walking in circles, following their own tracks.
    Pooh: Piglet, whatever it was that made these tracks has now been joined by a whatever-it-is!
  • In The Great Mouse Detective:
    • Basil uses a magnifying glass to follow Fidget's clearly visible foot and peg prints in the toy store.
    • Played with when we first see the Great Detective's laboratory; there's a Rube Goldberg Contraption endlessly printing bootprints on paper, perhaps as a "have you seen these bootprints?" Wanted Poster.

     Real Life 
  • While footprints are rarely as obvious as portrayed in cartoons, they can be a powerful clue for forensic scientists. Shoe models are cataloged, so the police can check sales of that particular shoe, which can be tied to a suspect's credit card. The degree of indentation and spacing can determine height and weight, narrowing down the suspects. That being said, the duty of real life detectives in police departments is mainly to conduct big-picture investigative work such as conducting interviews and interrogations, searching records, and analyzing evidence for patterns, while the actual following of footprints is a much smaller part of the job, one usually given to forensic analysts (for examining physical evidence) or uniformed street officers (for hunting down suspects).
  • After a fall of snow, it's not uncommon for the media to report the swift arrest of a crime suspect who left a rather obvious clue. Example.