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. Common gags in cartoons include the character picking up one of the footprints for a better look, to end up following their own footprints around or to follow the footprints to their owner and only noticing they're standing there when examining their foot with the magnifying glass.
This trope is pretty common in children's media. In more realistic works, detectives are often shown examining footprints carefully, but generally, rather than following a convenient trail of them, they're measuring them, thereby learning at least the criminal's shoe size, possibly their height (based on their stride length) and if they're very lucky, that the criminal has a noticeable limp and shoes with one heel worn down further than the other. If the work is set before fingerprinting (or the criminal wore gloves) this may be the best identifying mark available.
- In episode 4 of Jewelpet Sunshine, Ruby takes up the job of a detective to investigate the mysterious disappearance of items in the school campus and follows a track of rectangular footprints to Sapphie's secret laboratory.
- Kaguya-sama: Love Is War uses this visual in its second season opening with Fujiwara (in her "Detective Chika" persona), Ishigami, Iino, and Osaragi following a trail of hearts that leads to Kaguya and Shirogane in the Student Council room.
- 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 think they are saved from the desert when they find 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).
- The Far Side: A strip shows a detective tracking a murderer's footprints at the scene of the crime, then noting that it's useless in terms of evidence because they are both chickens and everyone's feet look exactly alike.
- Played straight in The Lion King Adventures, where Simba and Haiba simply follow Shocker's paw prints to find him in his debut story.
- 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.
- Played with a twist in Knives Out. While surveying the scene of the murder with a suspicion that the murderer had muddy boots, Benoit Blanc notices a muddy trail of fresh prints that could still be useful. However, by this point in the film, the story has become a Reverse Whodunnit — the perpetrator (who was presently accompanying an unsuspecting Blanc) realizes this mere seconds ahead of him by walking further ahead, "accidentally" trampling over the trail and rendering them useless.
- In the animated intro to The Pink Panther (1963), 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.
- In The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case, Holmes follows the track of Small's peg-leg across the carpet in the study, and the prints of Tonga's bare feet through the attic.
- In Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, Holmes points out a trail of bloody footprints to Inspector Cooper that lead to the buried clothes.
- Sherlock Holmes (1932): On Holmes' instruction, Billy uses a powder that brings up the footprints on Erskine's carpet. The footprints lead to a blank wall and then away again. The footprints are deeper going to the wall than away from it, indicating the killer carried Erskine's body to a secret compartment behind the wall and left it there.
- In The Princess Bride, while tracking Vizzini and company after they kidnap Princess Buttercup, Prince Humperdink examines the footprints in the dirt at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity. He "recreates" Wesley and Inigo's footsteps, describing the duel as between two "master" swordsmen. He also sees where the loser ran off in one direction and the winner followed "those tracks towards Guilder" to keep appearances up to his entourage that he actually cared for Buttercup.
- 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.
- In one Winnie the Pooh story, "In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle", Pooh is following a set of tracks on the snow, wondering who or what made them. Piglet joins him, and they 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!
- 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.
- Monk: The episode "Mr. Monk and the Panic Room" sees Monk observe from footprints that a man walked up to a door, broke it to set off the alarm, and then walked away instead of running off.
- 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.
- In the Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock episode "Craggle Lagoon", when "Inspector Red" is investigating who stole the water from the lagoon, she finds some footprints and immediately declares they must belong to the water thieves. Gobo points out that these are their footprints. As it turns out, Red's not exactly wrong.
- A set of footprints play a major role in unraveling Chapter 4 of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and are actually relevant in multiple ways: the location of the footprints in front of a cabinet indicate what the person was getting from the cabinet, the size of the footprints shows who got it, and the fact that the footprints were made in spilled powder helps establish when they did so.
- 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.
- In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Geralt often finds himself tracking footprints as part of a quest. His enhanced senses make this easier and he can also make a good guess at the species.
- Aloy sometimes has to follow tracks in some quests in Horizon Zero Dawn. It's easy for her since her Focus gives her an Augmented Reality view that highlights the tracks in glowing purple.
- In Ghost of Tsushima, many, many quests require you to follow someone's footprints. Fortunately, no one you're tracking ever walks through the grass, instead staying entirely on the dirt roads and trails at all times.
- In Disco Elysium, there are a large number of footprints where the victim's body is hanging, preserved from the time of the murder a week earlier thanks to cold weather. A successful Visual Calculus check lets you analyze the footprints, picking out the number of individuals, their shoe makes and sizes, and other strange and significant details.
- In Disney Magic Kingdoms, during the Turning Red Event, Priya is able to deduce where Mei went based on the footprints she left and other clues.
- A trailer for Princess Peach: Showtime! shows Peach working as a detective, one of several roles she can take in the game, following a set of footprints in a museum to help solve a mystery.
- 8-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. When it becomes clear they're lost, he then suggests following this same trail to safety. Not surprisingly, Black Mage's response is to desperately suppress his urge to kill.
- 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
mouserat hole.Daffy: Nothing's impossible to Duck Twacy!
- The intro animation to Sylvester And Tweety Mysteries features this very prominently.
- 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.Another example.