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Facial Composite Failure

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Gumball: Big skull!... He had a big skull for a head.
Principal Brown: Skull, hmm? So, something like this?! (holds up drawing)
Gumball: That's a boat.
Principal Brown: (mumbling) Yes, well I was never really good at drawing faces.

The facial composite is a standard technique in police investigations. It is a drawing created to try and identify a suspect whose appearance alone is known. While the quality and accuracy of these drawings can vary based on the quality and accuracy of the eyewitnesses, you can reasonably expect the sketch to resemble who the police are after.

That is, of course, unless the Rule of Funny is in play.

When this happens, the composite sketch will inevitably be a hideous caricature of the actual person. Of course, because it's the Rule of Funny we're talking about here, this will typically do absolutely nothing to prevent people from recognizing the person on the sketch anyway.

A frequent inversion is for the composite sketch to be very accurate but the character himself, either out of obliviousness or vanity, insisting it looks nothing like him. Another variation will feature a character creating a face completely out of their imagination to blame something they did on a made-up individual, only for the person they described to actually exist and be arrested as a result of their lie. In a bout of Stylistic Self-Parody, animated or comic mediums will have the composite drawn in a realistic style instead of the art style of the series itself.

Contrast Super Identikit. This can also sometimes happen because the Suspect Is Hatless.


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  • An old Yellow Pages commercial shows a Chinese shopkeeper describing a robber to the police sketch artist. He gives a reasonable description. The artist finishes and asks, "Is THIS the man that robbed you?" He shows us a stick figure with only a general resemblance to the description. The victim flips out. "You're not an artist! You can't draw!"
  • Invoked Trope in a Dove ad where a criminal sketch artist draws two versions of the same person, one where they describe themselves, and one where someone else describes them.

    Anime & Manga 
  • During the first arc of Buso Renkin, Kazuki creates a composite sketch of Papillion... that looks like it was taken out of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
  • In Dragonar Academy, Avdocha the Executioner's wanted poster makes her look like a hot, grown up woman with huge breasts. The main characters are flabbergasted when they learn she is really a small girl who looks like she hasn't gone through puberty yet (she's really 20 years old).
  • There's an instance in From Eroica with Love, when Eroica and the Major are reluctantly working together at the Vatican and end up getting the police on their tail. Unfortunately the sketches turn out a bit "artsy" — meaning that the gruff Major ends up looking something like a model posing on a magazine cover. The only one who ever recognizes him based on that sketch is the overeager Italian detective. (The Major is not amused, but Eroica wants to color the picture, preferably with lipstick.)
  • After the Lab 5 incident in Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed draws up a report of what he saw, which includes a copy of the transmutation circle he found and drawings of the homunculus he met. The drawing of the circle is spot on, the drawing of Envy bears little resemblance. Justified by the fact that Ed learned technical drawing as part of becoming an alchemist (as precisely drawing out complex diagrams is a key part of the work), but he never studied portraiture.
  • Played for drama in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Master hacker the Laughing Man is able to hack into anyone with a cyberbrain in real-time, replacing his face with what would become an iconic logo to protect his identity. The police thought they caught a break when they found two unaugmented people who got a good look at his face, but quickly learned that the Laughing Man's hack was more insidious than they realized: every time the witnesses tried to describe the face they saw to the cops, the sketch artists could only draw the logo. He does the same thing to Togusa in episode 11.
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman:
  • In Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, Kishirika's enemies are trying to hunt her down now that she's reincarnated and have spread wanted posters of her across the Magic Continent. She's managed to avoid them because the posters are all based on her previous incarnation's busty, adult appearance; in her current body she's still a prepubescent child.
  • One Piece: Sanji spent a great deal of time desiring to get a bounty put on his head (since a bounty translates directly into fighting power and awesomeness). When that finally happened, the cameraman that tried to get a picture of Sanji left the lens-cap on, so they had to make his poster based off second-hand descriptions. Sanji's wanted poster ended up as a terrible artist's rendition that looks only vaguely like him. However, the second part of this trope didn't kick in much since everyone but a zombie with Luffy's personality legitimately failed to recognize him from the sketch. The sketch's consequences come up in a different way when the crew encounters Duval, whose face is near-identical to the sketch. This did work in Sanji's favor, as this led to Sanji's father, Vinsmoke Judge being unable to find him. Luckily for Sanji, after the Time Skip, he gets an actual photo, albeit an incredibly embarrassing one.
  • Pokémon Adventures: Gold has to give a description of Silver to a police officer. He exaggerates all of Silver's facial features so much that it looks like a grotesque monster and nothing like Silver. This was however, done deliberately — he didn't want the police interfering with his vendetta. We do get to see Silver's reaction when he's walking through a town and sees his wanted poster on the wall. He looks at it, Face Faults, then stares at it for a moment while Sweat Dropping. It eventually turns into a Brick Joke of sorts: when Blue tries to arrest Silver for the things he did at the beginning of the Gold/Silver/Crystal arc, Gold pulls out the wanted poster and points out that it looks nothing like him.
  • Samurai Usagi: Suzume reacts to facial composites being handed out of her and her allies by wanting to hunt down the one who drew them.
  • Scrapped Princess: The fact that it seems the police sketch looks totally the same when one drawn by a person with zero artistic skill, or a "professional" street painter, makes it looks like the whole world suffered from the Bad Artist Hat.
  • A Running Gag in the manga The Seven Deadly Sins is that none of the Seven Deadly Sins' wanted posters really resemble the actual person. They're so inaccurate that Meliodas, their captain, has the posters on display in his own bar. Only the girls have posters that resemble them which could imply that the witnesses were Distracted by the Sexy.
    • This one is interesting in that the wanted posters are for people who were well-known celebrities previously, and despite the concealing armor and helmets they wore most of the time there are dozens of people who knew each of their faces well, and who were used as sources for drawing each poster. All of the drawings actually make sense if you think enough about them, and while you wouldn't be able to find any of the Seven going off their posters (including the girls), it's for a new reason in each case.
  • Sket Dance: Bossun tries to sketch a profile of something with "a protruding head, an antennae, a face like a bat's and has spotted butterfly-like features". His drawing ends up looking like a disgusting alien monster and, according to Himeko, "Nothing would look like that crap". However such an object does exist, much to Bossun's own surprise, though obviously it turns out not to be the object Quecchon is looking for.
  • Slayers: When a bounty is put on Lina's, Gourry's, and Zelgadis's heads, their wanted posters turn out something like this.
  • The Story of Saiunkoku plays with this a little; when Seiran and Ensei get wanted posters put up for them during the trip to and through Sa Province, Seiran's likeness is perfect, but Ensei — who would be bishounen if he hadn't grown out a coarse, shaggy beard to disguise his face — is drawn as a wild-haired, jagged-toothed monster not unlike a bear. Ensei finds this rather unfair.
  • In World Conquest Zvezda Plot, because Zvezda has technology that scrambles their faces on recordings, their wanted posters feature hand-drawn illustrations instead. The illustrations are all terribly drawn and look nothing like them.

    Films — Animation 
  • Used as a Running Gag in Tangled. For whatever reason, Flynn's wanted posters always have wrong nose. Upon seeing one with a ridiculously long nose, he replies, "Now they're just being mean."
    • In a subversion of the "recognize the subject anyways" clause, Maximus (who has encountered Flynn in a criminal act) originally doesn't recognize Flynn on the poster; he has to cover up the nose to realize that yes, that IS the guy Max encountered earlier.
    • And then in Tangled Ever After, when he and Rapunzel are getting married he finds out they still can't get it right. During the hijinx that Maximums and Pascal get up to trying to recover their rings, the image gets folded in on itself, resulting in what looks like an even longer nose.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Not exactly played for laughs in Atlantic City, but Lou is ecstatic when the police sketch over the news looks nothing like him—he knows that he's going to get away with a double murder.
  • The Brave One references the Truth in Television phenomena below regarding a person thinking of a well-known face when they are unable to recall a face clearly.
  • Danger: Diabolik has a bunch of criminals use a weird device to come up with a sketch of Diabolik's girlfriend. It doesn't work too well. ("No, she wasn't Hitler!") Said "weird device" is a regular old light box — the kind artists use for tracing — over which the criminals placed transparencies with various pre-drawn facial features, kind of like a low-tech version of computer compositing.
  • Everbodys Famous: One of Debbie's kidnappers, Willy, is later seen entering her apartment. Debbie's neighbor provides the police a description of Willy—a "tall thin man of North African descent" who bears no resemblance at all to short, blond Willy. When Debbie sees the police sketch that looks nothing at all like Willy, she says it's because her neighbor is a racist who blames everything bad on Moroccans.
  • In the 1964 Fantômas movie with Louis de Funès, this occurs in a process similar to the Diabolik one, but the criminal ends being recognised as police commissioner Juve (played by de Funès) — the actual criminal, Fantômas, used Latex Perfection to disguise as him.
  • In the live-action Flintstones movie, Fred's "Wanted!" Poster is drawn in the style of cartoon Fred.
  • In A Guy Thing, Jason Lee's character Paul fabricates a story about being mugged, and when questioned by the police, describes the mugger as black AND white, with red hair in dreadlocks, a gold tooth, and a tattoo of barbed wire around his neck. His response when asked to identify a man matching this description as the mugger: "It's not him."
  • During the end credits of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a news report mentions that the titular characters are still wanted by the police. However, the provided police sketch depicts a stick figure in a turban and goatee, and another wearing a Chinese hat, squinty eyes, and big teeth.
  • While the composite of Émile Leopold Locque that James Bond does with the help of Q in For Your Eyes Only is accurate (with cutting edge CGI rendition of the time no less), Q goofs up at one point and gives him a hilarious Pinocchio-like long nose ("A nose, not a banana, Q!") as well as a duckface.
  • Joe Dirt. With two pictures. They are funny. The joke is that his mom actually sort of looks like her picture.
  • In Johnny English, the main character makes up a perp to cover up his own mistake. He describes an utterly ridiculous figure with orange hair, an eyepatch and identical banana-shaped scars on both cheeks. At the very end of the film, a guy fitting the description appears reading a newspaper.
  • In Loaded Weapon 1, one woman is describing a suspect, and the police guy fumbling at what looks a bit like a Mr. Potatohead. And later, we see two policemen arresting a guy who swears he is innocent — looking just like that.
  • Nacho Libre has a variation in the form of a caricaturist whose drawing of Nacho's sidekick winds up looking like a (reasonably attractive) woman.
  • In the second The Naked Gun movie, a police sketch artist is tasked with drawing a suspect described by the glamorous Jane. It turns out that he spent the entire time drawing a portrait of her instead.
  • In Wrongfully Accused, Ryan Harrison (played by Leslie Nielsen) finds a wanted poster of himself in a store flanked by three well-known TV personalities, including John Walsh of America's Most Wanted, and scribbles all over it. When one of the personalities recognizes someone, he draws his gun, causing Ryan to panic... and watch as the guy pulls away the guy who looks like the scribbled picture.

  • In 1634: The Baltic War three fugitives hiding out in London are helped immensely by the fact that the only detail their wanted posters get right are their beards, which are a very common style in the city. The poster even actively hinders the up-timers trying to work out who they are.
  • Discussed in The Day of the Jackal; a group of French counterespionage officials are discussing making an identity sketch based off of a hotel clerk's having briefly seen the Jackal two weeks earlier. One of the officials dismisses the idea, saying that such sketches based off of such a short encounter from such a long time ago are often inaccurate to the point that they could be of anybody, and at times even look like a completely different person.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever: The police sketches of Greg and Rowley after vandalizing the school do not look anything like Greg and Rowley.
  • In Incompetence, Harry checks out the news to find out if he's been identified by police. Due to the fact that Police Are Useless, not only does it look nothing like him, it strongly resembles Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes.
  • In the Eva Ibbotson novel Island of the Aunts, the police circulate composite drawings of the aunts, who are wanted for kidnapping. However, the descriptions result in grotesque caricatures that look nothing like the real women.
  • Max & the Midknights: The Tower of Time: When the Midknights get to the town of Peasoup, they find a "Wanted!" Poster of Max's twin sister, Mary. The picture has a different nose, and more realistic-looking eyes than the Black Bead Eyes that the girls have.
  • Played with in the French novel Monsieur Malaussène (part of the Malaussène series by Daniel Pennac). The person on the facial composite is very familiar to the Amateur Sleuth, but she only recognizes her after retouching by a professional photographer, especially blurring the facial composite.
  • In Relativity, Michael and Ravenswood are unable to accurately describe Vera Barracuda... probably because neither of them got a good look at her face.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Americans: Turns out, a Paper-Thin Disguise can be extremely effective as long as it's used on a stressed out, untrained target; when she explains every last ridiculous detail of their faces to the police, the sketches emphasize the parts that were clearly part of the disguise, but without a framework of details to wrap it around the sketches have nothing in common with the spies' actual faces.
  • Played to brilliant effect in a series of sketches on comedy supergroup Big Train; a lady describes her assailant using a barrage of adjectives that have nothing to do with visual appearance to an increasingly frustrated police officer.
    • Australian comedy Fast Forward had a similar skit involving a romance novelist describing her assailant in Purple Prose.
  • On an episode Corner Gas, Karen takes an art class, saying she needs to get better at sketching suspects. Cue Flashback.
    Karen: Is this the man who stole your cabbage? [reveals squiggle of formless blob]
    Old Woman: [squinting] ...Kind of. He had a hat.
  • CSI: NY had an episode where the drawing failed because the boy who witnessed the crime was actually describing a character in his comic book.
  • Happened on one episode of Dear John. Kirk is robbed by the girl he's dating and gives the police an exaggerated description of a very tough guy. The sketch artist then congratulates him on being the first person on the block to be beaten up by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • In the Doctor Who serial The Mind Robber, the Second Doctor's companion Jamie is turned into a faceless cardboard figure. In order to restore him the Doctor must reassemble his face from photographic segments, but he picks the wrong ones and Jamie is revived with a different face. This was actually a clever device to replace Jamie with another actor because actor Frazer Hines was off sick, and it works perfectly in the context of the story's Mind Screw plot. In the next episode the same thing happens, and of course this time the Doctor gets it right, restoring Jamie's original appearance.
  • Elementary had a sketch of a criminal that aroused some suspicion from Joan, because she had the feeling she'd seen him before; Sherlock was already suspicious because the descriptions given by the various eyewitnesses were unusually similar, even when recalling their descriptions much later. The sketch was actually of Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate, and the witnesses who described him were colluding with each other to conceal their own involvement in the crimes under investigation.
  • Flower of Evil: Moo-jin the reporter deliberately engineers this in episode 4, giving an incorrect description of Hee-sung in order to delay the police. Moo-jin is working with Hee-sung to find the real killer and doesn't want him arrested.
  • The Goodies. After the Jolly Rock lighthouse goes missing, police produce two identikit pictures of high-up members of the Royal Family (as the QE2 sailed past it shortly before the lighthouse was launched into space).
  • A parody of Hawaii 5.0 made by Eugenio Derbez had a witness describe the suspect as having yellowish skin, a round face and a "sinister smile" and the sketch that comes out is simply a yellow smily face. Subverted at the end when the cops capture the criminal and they claim "he looks nothing like the sketch", only for them to notice he has a mask and underneath he looks just like a smiley face.
  • Hunter. Hunter comes home to find the body of a beautiful woman in his house, which later vanishes. He has a sketch artist reproduce her features, but is later embarrassed when Hunter shows the sketch to someone who knew her in life, who says it's a good likeness but whoever made the sketch must have been in love with her because she wasn't that beautiful.
  • In the Lemon Wacky Hello episode of Just Shoot Me!, Nina gets robbed, and she asks Elliott to draw a sketch of the burglar. We don't get a chance to see it, but the cop points out that it should be easy to track down the guy. After all, how many eight-armed cowboys with beaks are there in New York?
  • Life On Mars: "We're looking for a man with huge cheeks and a 6-inch forehead!"
  • In the second episode of Lois & Clark, a Daily Planet artist is drawing Superman based on Lois's description ... but she keeps insisting he looked nothing like Clark Kent.
  • An episode of Medium had a witness describe, instead of the suspect whom she was terrified of, the man on the cover of a magazine nearby. The resulting sketch is a pretty good likeness of Matt Damon.
  • NCIS
    • One of the team appears to be describing a suspect to Abby, who's making a composite on her computer. When the picture is shown to the audience, it looks exactly like Ducky. Subverted when it turns out that they already knew the identity of the suspect and were just playing around with the composite program.
    • In another episode, Kate is doing a composite of one of the Victims of the Week from memory (the body having been burned beyond recognition by a bomb going off at the scene after they left), and Tony is "helping" her by doing a composite of his own based on her description. Tony completes his first and hands it to Kate, revealing it to be a stick figure with Xs for eyes... and then Gibbs walks in and berates Kate for the poor quality of "her" sketch.
    • Palmer served as a witness in one episode and turned out to be terrible at it. The first description he gave Abby wound up with a composite with cartoon dimensions (nose set to minimum, ears to max, etc.), which he declared perfect, because it captured the suspect's "essence." They tried again with Palmer under hypnosis, and this time they wound up with a workable composite... of the barista Palmer frequents. For whatever reason, that was the image he had in his head. Third time might have been a charm, but they decided not to bother.
  • An episode of New Tricks had the team working from a realistic looking sketch that accurately fits the witness's description, but can't find anyone connected with the crime who remotely resembles it. It turns out that the witness had wanted to conceal the perp's identity, but needed to tell something to the police sketch artist, so just described Arnold Schwarzenegger instead.
  • Attempted to invoke on No Ordinary Family. Jim is a sketch artist, so when someone comes to describe the person they saw (him) to him, he tries to steer them in the wrong direction. They insist though on describing him accurately, except for giving Michael Chiklis long stringy hair.
  • One episode of The Office has Pam drawing a composite of a suspect who flashed Phyllis in the parking lot. When Dwight takes it upon himself to find the offender, Pam draws Dwight's face and adds a small mustache.
  • In Person of Interest "Baby Blue," after Finch kidnaps a baby, an AMBER Alert is sent out with a sketch of Finch. It's a pretty bad caricature.
    Finch: It's no wonder they never catch anybody with these things.
  • Played for laughs in the pilot for Psych, Shawn "reads" the victim's hot sister to describe the "perp" to a composite artist. Of course it looks like her boyfriend in a picture of them skiing.
  • A Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live featured an interview with the guy who did the sketch of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, comparing the image with the eventual mug shot, and how the two look nothing alike. It then showed his sketches for the "Ten-Gallon Hat Bandit," and a criminal in a chef's hat, both with large hats and sunglasses, despite how neither criminal actually wore those items. The sketch artist notes he's not good with eyes or hair.

  • Played with on Season 5 Episode 2 of White Collar. Neal has been given a new handler, and the trail of their current case has led to Mozzie, posing as a man named Theodore Winters and running a stolen art business. When Neal is asked by Peter to do a sketch, he does so in Peter's office, fudging it just enough so that it matches Mozzie's description without looking anything like him. Then when Peter wants the new handler to confirm the sketch, Neal turns his back to Peter and shows him an actual sketch of Mozzie, which had been cleverly hidden on the next page of the sketchpad.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Liberty Meadows when the cow kidnapped a visiting wildlife show host Leslie tried to give a description to a police sketch artist who looked suspiciously like Frank Cho's Author Avatar, and ended up with a picture of Elsie.

    Video Games 
  • Baten Kaitos Origins has the Power Trio find wanted posters of themselves in Sudal Suud. Perverse Puppet Golem Guillo is drawn with a beak and claimed to be a man in a mask (despite Guillo's female physical features being more prominent than Guillo's male ones). Milly wears way too much makeup and is reported as a kleptomaniac. Sagi appears to be much older than he is, and it says he's a marriage con.
  • In Bioshock Infinite, after Booker gets the entire city after him, you hear a PA announcement describe the 6'1", brown-haired, green-eyed, Caucasian and thoroughly American protagonist as "either a Mulatto dwarf or a Frenchman with a missing left eye, no more than four foot five inches." Since Columbia is so violently xenophobic, it makes sense they'd rather peg a minority than an American. Later, you find a woman describing Booker to a sketch artist, and the picture looks like Sander Cohen.
  • In BlazBlue's story modes, the wanted poster of Ragna The Bloodedge is drawn with such absurd levels of Gonk that Taokaka insists "Good Guy" (Ragna) can't possibly be the same person as "Rawgrna" (Ragna's poster). Unfortunately for Ragna, other characters can identify him by this poster, Orie included.
  • A variation happens in Disgaea Dimension 2. Laharl demands statues be made of him and at first they look fine. But then the camera swings around to show the face, which has very strange bug-eyed expression.
  • In Fahrenheit, the player gets to try making a composite image of the protagonist. You're ostensibly supposed to try your best, but it can be more fun to add ridiculous mustaches and hairstyles.
  • In Hitman: Blood Money, the newspaper article after each mission will have a different composite image of Mr. 47 depending on what your notoriety level is at the time. At low notoriety, the image will be wildly different from 47's rather distinctive face. If 47 was a "Silent Assassin" during the mission (and therefore was not placed at the scene at all), the picture is one of the recently deceased target
  • An early Limsa Lominsa quest in Final Fantasy XIV has you giving a sketch of a dine and dasher to the local guards. While you don't see the sketch yourself, the person you give it to comments that the sketch looks more like the prow of a ship than a man's face.
  • Max Payne 3 uses this for a Mythology Gag Easter Egg. After a significant character's death, Max can watch a news report about their death and see a police sketch of himself that looks nothing like him In-Universe, but matches his appearance in the first game, complete with the infamous constipated squint and slightly-raised eyebrow from his 3D model.
    Max: Oh, Jesus... Look at that!
  • Mako "Roadhog" Rutledge of Overwatch receives this in his wanted poster on the Dorado map. The sketch artist depicting him as an actual pig-man instead of man in a pig-shaped gas-mask.
  • The bounty posters of your group in Sands of Destruction are naturally exaggerated caricatures, and seemingly can't even decide on what they want to caricature. They're bad enough that the main way you view them is by walking up to a bounty hunter and talking to him. He claims he got a tip a huge mark is about to come through town, then shows you posters...of yourself. Repeat: a professional bounty hunter who is actively looking for you does not recognize you because the posters are so bad. They change as you fight more battles, too, but never seem to get any better at capturing your likenesses.
  • Super Mario Sunshine gives us a wanted poster showing "Shadow Mario". This is enough to condemn Mario to clean all of Isle Delfino, despite the fact that the real Mario had only been on the airstrip for literally two minutes.
  • Tales Series:
    • Lloyd Irving experiences this early in Tales of Symphonia when the Desians put a price on his head. When the party gets a price on them in Tethe'alla, the wanted poster of Lloyd is much more accurate.
    • Yuri Lowell also experiences this in Tales of Vesperia after The Empire goes after him, though he takes more offence at how low his bounty is.
    • Jude and Milla both get subjected to this in Tales of Xillia as a result of their actions in Rashugal, though it's an optional scene.
      • A variation shows up in Tales of Xillia 2, where Ivar draws and shows off wanted posters for Ludger and Julius to be used in case they decide to do anything foolish. He knows perfectly well what they look like, but they look as terrible as the previous examples.
    • Used in Tales of Berseria. Descriptions of the party are usually wildly inaccurate and typically of the wrong species. Career pirate Eizen jovially notes he has fun returning to port after an absence and seeing how badly the description was screwed up this time.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2 the team arrive in Torigoth to find wanted posters of the members of Torna. Jin and Malos' posters are fairly accurate. Nia's, on the other hand, gets the hairstyle right, but replaces her face with Dromarch's. Nia (who switched sides as soon as Torna started killing off their hired help and is now traveling with the protagonists) is none too pleased. It becomes a Brick Joke later on when the local guard actually recognizes her because of the poster. Even further later on, one can take a look at the same billboard, with Rex and Nia's posters looking far more accurate.
  • Subverted in one substory in Yakuza 4. Akiyama has to track down a crook with only a rough sketch drawn by his secretary Hana to help him. Hana's crude drawing looks almost inhumanly ugly and is mocked by Akiyama and his informants, but everyone who's seen the suspect all say it's astonishingly accurate. Sure enough, when the culprit is finally found he turns out to be exactly as ugly as Hana's drawing made him out to be.

    Web Animation 
  • Sort of used in the Homestar Runner toon "Strong Bad is in Jail Cartoon". Bubs draws a sketch of The King of Town's description of Strong Bad ("Had a head like a big ol', round ol', red ol', nasty ol' egg and hands looked like biscuit dough!"), only for it to look nothing like him—in fact, it's a perfect match for someone Coach Z identifies as Biscuit Dough Hands Man who, in later cartoons, is revealed to actually exist.
  • Towards the end of the first season of RWBY, Team RWBY is in hot pursuit of a man named Sun. Weiss holds up an unflattering and simplistic drawing of the Faunus with sharp teeth and a scowl when asking for a lead on him.

    Web Comics 
  • Invoked in this Biter Comics strip, where it's all but outright stated that the sketch artist himself is the culprit, and is deliberately botching the sketch to cover his tracks.
  • One strip of Bob and George comes during the BnG News arc, and shows a supposed drawing of the person who was eating babies of the last strip. It turns out to be a crude stick figure in red and yellow. It's then revealed Chadling was the artist, and his reaction was basically "yeah, I don't know why they hired me either." The next strip averts the trope, with a much better drawing of the perp, as drawn by forumite Megami.
  • The Order of the Stick turns this joke on its head here, with a "facial reconstruction" that is a much more detailed drawing than the usual Stick-Figure Comic style. It's also a Take That! to Rich Burlew's critics who thought he used stick figures because of a lack of artistic skill.
  • The Princess's Jewels: In episode 3, when Princess Ariana and Nell Phantom are discussing Ariana's next intended jewel, Prince Efrit Karsia, Nell talks about an incident where his mask was cracked on the battlefield, revealing his face. Rumours spread quickly, and Nell produces a composite sketch of Efrit's face... that makes him look like he's in his 40s or 50s. Princess Ariana finds it hilarious, and even Nell has to stifle a laugh.
  • In San, Cao Cao's wanted poster doesn't look a thing like him... except for his nice hat, and thus this gets him arrested.
  • The Police of Vinigortonio mistake Platypus for a human with weird shaped head.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of American Dad! had a police sketch depict Hayley and Jeff as Velma and Shaggy.
  • Family Guy
    • Subverted and played straight when a news report releases an accurate sketch of a suspected serial killer, and then shows a sketch of a suspected accomplice, "believed to be his wife". This composite is also accurate — but since the killer's wife is imaginary, the screen is blank.
    • Another episode had Peter and Lois on the lam, described as "a fat man inexplicably married to an attractive redhead"; the police sketch of them is Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
    • Peter once lost a job as a police sketch artist for drawing racist caricatures (a crude smilie face with buck teeth, slanted eyes, and a conical hat). Subverted moments later when Chris is mugged by a man who looks identical to Peter's sketch.
  • South Park
    • An episode has a police sketch artist draw the boys in a very realistic manner, completely different from the animation style of the show itself. Kyle's mom says the sketches are a bit off.
    • Another, weirder instance had Mr. Garrison trying to describe the escaped lab mouse that was used to grow his soon-to-be grafted new penis. Based on the description he gives, the police sketch artist ends drawing a cheerful Mickey Mouse, pitching a massive tent.
    • Happens again when the boys play detective, and a little girl comes in to report her doll being stolen. When she describes what it looks like to Kenny, he proceeds to draw a stick figure with massive tits.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Hall Monitor", the police show Patrick a sketch of the Open Window Maniac, which is clearly a stick figure of SpongeBob. Patrick screams in horror every time the picture is shown.
  • The Simpsons has played with this one quite a few times.
    • In "The Great Money Caper", Bart was making it up (because there wasn't really a perp) but it ended up looking just like Groundskeeper Willie.
    • In "Homer's Odyssey" while the Simpsons visit city hall, Chief Wiggum reports on the roving graffiti artist "El Barto" and distributes a sketch of him which looked like a mean, teenage version of Bart. Homer's response: "Wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley," completely oblivious to the fact that it's his son.
    • In "Mother Simpson", there's a scene where Joe Friday and Bill Gannon were asking a cabbie about Mona Simpson using an old photo. When the cabbie couldn't recognize her, the agents showed him their computer telling him she would look 25 years older. The cabbie immediately remembers her, even though instead of an photo, sketch, or rendering, however, it was just a big number 25 on the computer screen.
    • In The Simpsons Movie, Bart scribbles over a wanted poster in a convenience store with fake mustaches, eye patches, etc. in order to disguise his family being on the poster. As they sneak out, the owner of the store suddenly goes "Oh my God, it's them!"... and points at a family which looks exactly like the marked-up sketch, complete with an eyepatch-wearing Maggie. In the DVD commentary, Matt Groening comments that he wants to do an episode about that family.
    • In "Brother's Little Helper" when Bart went missing, the police take Marge's description of him as being "towheaded, button nose, mischevous smile and possibly armed with a slingshot" and they came up with a picture of... Dennis the Menace.
    Lou: Looks like the kid who roughed up the Wilson widow.
  • A "Wanted!" Poster of Toph appears in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Runaway". Being blind, Toph couldn't actually see the picture, but was pleased when Sokka said it wasn't a bad one (though it was far more cartoonish that it really should be). Also averted when the Gaang had enough sense not to use the pictures of Appa drawn by Sokka, which earned only Toph's praise.
  • An episode of British Dennis the Menace has Dennis and Gnasher's pictures appear on the news and they have their faces swapped over (the newsreader also notes that anyone who recognised them from those pictures would need their eyes testing).
  • Composite sketches of Beavis And Butthead showed up in a couple episodes. Naturally, they're too dense to realize it's them and nobody else seems to catch on either. In at least one case, the sketches are significantly pleasanter and less gonky than their real faces.
  • Freakazoid!
    • It is taken to extremes when Cosgrove drew stick figures for a composite sketch. This resulted in Scotland Yard arresting the Bic mascots.
    • Then there was America's Most Hated, which provided a composite sketch of Freakazoid disguised as a Shetland pony.
  • A close variant in Wakfu episode 24. The sketch of Nox's two common minions (a Grouilleux and a Noxine) done by Renate is rather poorly drawn (and unfortunately using blue, despite insistence that the creatures were black). This results in the Crâ border guards, to which the poster was distributed to, to attack Yugo and Adamaï when they show up.
  • In an episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? the gang found themselves fugitives in Japan and their police sketches were drawn in an anime style.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Vamps About", Peppermint Butler can't draw the vampires described by Jake, thanks to Jake using weird and vague descriptions like "a wet uncle" or "a stop-sign sticking out of a loaf of bread". However, the stop-sign loaf drawing comes out surprisingly accurate, leading Marceline to recognize it, and knowing him means she knows who the others are too.
    Jake: Nah, that's not right.
  • In the Clarence episode "Nothing Ventured", Clarence and Sumo's police sketches on the news somewhat resemble Ralph Wiggum and Popeye.
  • Subverted in an episode of We Bare Bears when Panda helps a policeman to make an sketch of a suspect described in the police radio: Panda's drawing was really similar to the suspect, except for the Big Anime Eyes. Note that the suspect is a muscular, bald and bearded guy.
  • One episode of Steven Universe had Steven describe an unknown Gem to Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, and Connie, with each one creating a sketch. Pearl and Connie at least tried, but went more artistic than they needed to. Amethyst admits her scribble was "trying to get a feeling" rather than be accurate. Garnet just drew herself. The sketches weren't even very necessary, considering how rare Gems are on Earth and how distinctive they are from humans.
  • Parodied in The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Skull", Principal Brown appears to be drawing a picture based on Gumball's vague description of the boy who trashed the locker room. Then Principal Brown reveals his sketch to show he was drawing a sailboat.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, police are now using software that builds a composite of seemingly unrelated faces (unrelated except for certain features, like lips or the eyes) to build a more accurate face. The technology (FaceGen) had been developed for law enforcement and then leased for various 3D design applications, and then to Bethesda for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The software is also capable of the inversion; taking a real photographic portrait and matching points of facial features to a head model to reproduce the face in 3D. This feature generates composite failures much more often than not.
  • In a related trope, the facial composite will sometimes turn out to look like someone who obviously didn't do it, like a celebrity. This is Truth in Television; when a person is trying to recall an unfamiliar face, they will often use a face that they are familiar with as a guide, along the lines of "He resembled [insert celebrity here]." This means that the more they think about the face the actually saw, the more their memory of it begins to resemble the celebrity's that they used as a reference.
  • During the hunt for an armed robber turned multiple murderer nicknamed The Black Panther,note  the wanted posters issued were so different that many people seeing them all displayed together assumed the police were looking for a gang.
  • This Bolivian Police sketch for a murderer was broadcasted under total seriousness. Funny. Subverted in that it actually led to an arrest!
  • Similarly, this witness sketch of a store robber in Pennsylvania actually jogged the memory of an investigator to identify a suspect.
  • Also, The Japanese police are using Miis to composite images of wanted criminals now.
  • There's an infamous police sketch of a man in a baseball cap and large sunglasses, with the bottom of his face hidden with a bandanna. What was that drawing supposed to accomplish?
  • An even more bizarre example occurred in Thailand, where a police sketch was made of a man wearing a motorcycle helmet.
  • According to Dave Chappelle, the police sketch artists "keep drawing the same brother over and over again" to the point of simply using stencils whenever the suspect is black, which might explain this image where the composite sketch strongly resembles the newscaster.
  • This British photofit. It's apparently meant to show a man with wavy blonde/greying hair, but looks more like he has a lettuce on his head.
  • There was one St. Patrick's Day news report on the "Crichton Leprechaun" that quickly went viral, due in no small part to the "amateur sketch" being presented on-air.
  • This trope is why many police departments are leaning away from composite artists. The utility is bad with hand-drawn and even worse with computer-generated pictures.

Alternative Title(s): Amazingly Inaccurate Wanted Poster


They can't get my nose right!

They can't get Flynn's nose right.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / FacialCompositeFailure

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