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Fourth-Wall Portrait

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Works drawn in a simplistic or cartoonish style may feature a piece of art, often including a person, drawn in what we would consider a much more detailed or realistic style. Almost invariably, some character will remark on how unrealistic that art is, or how bad the artist's grasp of anatomy must be — why would anyone give people five fingers? This is how artists show off their creative range, displaying details and style that are obviously inconsistent with the visual style of the work.

Amusingly, the opposite scenario, where a character draws or paints someone else in a style that is perfectly consistent with the art style they are normally rendered in, which should actually mean that they are a highly skilled artist, is rarely acknowledged.

Largely a subtrope of Stylistic Self-Parody. See also Animated World Hypotheses for the question of whether animated characters perceive their own universe as lifelike.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Parodied in the anime version of Shaman King, where a member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad makes a portrait of one robber in a '70s Shoujo style (a style more detailed than the cartoony Shōnen of the series — but not by much).
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing:
    • Used in the 4-koma short comics at the back of the manga adaptation, which were far less detailed than the manga. The shorts also featured strips on "how to draw characters" which were three panels long (the last reserved for the punchline) and even simpler than the 4-koma themselves.
    • A couple of strips centered on Doctor J inventing a de-chibifier ray and using it on Heero. Unfortunately for him, it only affected his head and left the rest of him super-deformed and looking pretty strange.
  • Happens in Bakuman。, when Takagi and Mashiro create their first manga series. Since Mashiro wants his girlfriend Azuki, an aspiring voice actress, to give her voice to the heroine in the anime adaptation of his series, he makes the heroine resemble Azuki, and the first draft design of her is much more realistic than the usual "big eyes" style in which Azuki is actually drawn within the Bakuman manga. Later he decides to make the character more stylistic.
  • Nagasarete Airantou: The animals on the island of Airantou look significantly different and are more cuter than normal ones. An outsider Mei-Mei loves to create realistic-looking animal costumes but they mostly scare the islanders.
  • Squid Girl:
    • Inverted: Takeru draws a picture of Ika, which looks exactly the same as her. Takeru complains that it looks too "manga-like," while Ika argues that she doesn't have such a simplistic face. (Of course, she does.)
    • It's also played straight with Ika Musume's (realistic-looking) portraits. Combined with the above, it comes as a bit of a Mind Screw.
  • Buso Renkin plays this straight when Kazuki draws a picture of Chouno to show around the school while they try to track him down. It's in incredibly detailed style and both Tokiko and Chouno himself are taken aback by it. That said, Kazuki did put his heart and soul into it.
  • In a similar manner to the Shaman King example listed above, Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure has a moment where Hikaru's mother, a mangaka, comes up with a story about an alien landing on Earth and befriending a human schoolgirl; coincidentally, the very premise of the show. The art she draws up is a retro '80s shoujo take on the anime's more stylized, modern character designs.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: Season 8 episode 12 is about Big M. being given a magic pen that Huo Haha stole from Careful S. and trying to use it to bring his drawings to life. Unfortunately, he's a Terrible Artist and the drawings have to be just realistic enough to actually come to life, so Little M. hires an art teacher for him. Then Big M. becomes so good at drawing that he's able to draw a live-action human - which is so realistic that it doesn't come alive. Little M. even lampshades that it doesn't fit the art style of the cartoon.

    Comic Books 
  • In issue #9 of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series, Big Macintosh is presented a caricature of himself, drawn as a realistic horse rather than the cartoon style, by the pony-sona of the book's artist in the role of the caricature artist. Big Macintosh declines buying the artwork.
  • Towards the end of Maus, main character Vladek's wife receives a picture of him confirming he is still alive. In an interesting twist on this trope, the photo is actually the real-life photo of Vladek Spiegelman (the author's father). This is very jarring considering he has been shown only as a stylised mouse for the rest of the story.
  • Inverted on an alternate cover of The Flintstones #1, showing Fred taking a selfie of himself and Wilma. As in the book, the characters are drawn in a relatively realistic style, but the camera-bird is drawing them as they appear in the cartoon.

    Comic Strips 
  • Frequently used in Calvin and Hobbes. In very early strips, Calvin's imaginary excursions were often drawn in a cartoonish style basically the same as the main strip's art. Later on though, the artist experimented with different styles in different fantasy worlds. When Calvin played "house" or "doctor" with Susie, the art was in a style a lot like soap opera strips: normal human proportions, angular lines on characters, etc. The commentary in one Calvin and Hobbes collection revealed that it unintentionally showed Watterson's true talent. Whereas the usual Soap Opera Comic is drawn on a much larger paper and scaled-down, Watterson's parody of it was drawn at normal scale without losing any quality of detail.
  • FoxTrot
    • A strip featured a still life of some fruit in a bowl, starting from a fairly realistic drawing and "improving" to the comic's cartoony style.
    • Another had Jason drawing comic characters with eyes identical to the comic's googly eyes; Peter says he's never seen such realistic eyes, and Jason replies he's going for the "graphic novel feel".
    • Yet another has Jason making a snowman. It looks normal until Peter points out that the nose is in the wrong place, and Jason moves it to the side of the head to match the normal Foxtrot face.
  • The Far Side once featured a street artist in a city where everyone had a simple two-dots-and-a-semicircle smiley face for a head. He is, of course, completely unable to draw them correctly.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Video Games 
  • In Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, there is a painting of Sam and Max on the wall of Momma Bosco's lab, as a realistic-looking dog and rabbit.
  • Final Fantasy XV has a brief gag in Altissia where the party can have their picture drawn by a caricaturist, only for it to look like a children's drawing. While this itself isn't an example, the same joke in the mobile port is: the caricaturist's picture will instead depict the (low-poly, cartoonish) party as their lovingly-rendered HD selves from the console version.

    Web Comics 
  • This strip of The Order of the Stick: a police sketch artist draws fairly realistic depictions, as opposed to the standard stick-figure style. "What are these weird bumpy things between their eyes?" Done at least partially as a Take That! to those readers who thought that the stick-figure style was due to the creator's lack of artistic talent.
  • This strip of Joyce and Walky!. "My art teacher wants me to stop making up anatomy that doesn't exist." "Were you drawing lips again?" As that statement implies, that wasn't the first time.
  • Cyanide and Happiness C&H does it with body art: [1]
  • Done in the name of caricature in this Precocious strip.
  • In the school yearbook in Kevin & Kell, the Funny Animal students look "stiff and formal".
  • Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade are alter egos of the strip's creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, but visually they look almost nothing alike. In one strip, with screen resolutions improving, Tycho demands that Gabe come up with a more detailed look for them. This results in grotesque caricatures of Mike and Jerry.
  • In this strip from Bad Machinery, Shauna's mum's boyfriend Dan gets a tattoo of Shauna that is far more detailed than how artist John Allison usually draws the strip. Shauna is not pleased.
  • This Dork Tower strip has Carson the Muskrat use a phone app to produce "a wildly stylised fantasy portrait" based on a selfie he took. When it produces a photo of an actual muskrat, Igor says it looks nothing like him, and Carson says he's going to get a refund.

    Web Original 
  • This humorous cartoon shows a stickman lamenting that all he can draw is "real people" rather than stickmen.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park
    • The episode "Free Willzyx" featured forensic sketches of the main characters in a realistic style. Of course, when those sketches were shown to residents of the town, nobody could recognize who they were supposed to be.
    • Though one woman thought Cartman looked like Dakota Fanning.
    • Double subverted later, as Kyle's mom does recognize his portrait, but then comments that the drawing "isn't very good".
  • The Simpsons
    • A scene in which Homer worries that his children could turn into "hideous freaks, with pink skin, no overbites, and five fingers on each hand", followed by a shot of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie in a more 'realistic' cartoon style than usual, plays a slight twist on the same basic joke.
    • Another gag involved Lisa explaining to Bart, thanks to evolution, humans would have an extra digit on their hands in several thousand years. She then shows Bart a picture of a five-fingered hand, prompting Bart to hold up his own four-fingered hand and comment on the weirdness of having five fingers.
    • Another time, during a Treehouse of Horror episode, Homer ended up in a parallel dimension that led him to the real world, keeping his cartoony features in rendered in 3D graphics amidst live action.
      Homer: I feel like I'm wasting a fortune just standing around here! Well, I better make the most of it. [beat drums his fingers, then belches]
  • Family Guy
    • One episode had Peter mention that he took some drugs once, and everything got "way too real." Cut to a live action scene of a fat guy in Peter's clothes on a bench, wearing a fake Peter head, looking at his hands, and declaring he was "freaking out".
    • There was also the episode "Road to the Multiverse" where Stewie and Brian go to the real world briefly. Stewie comments on it feeling weird before pushing the button to jump to another universe. They were portrayed by a real toddler and a real dog.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • When SpongeBob imagines himself as a lifeguard, he sees himself as a guy dressed in a SpongeBob costume.
    • Also, Larry the Lobster's reflection in one episode is that of a boiled lobster.
    • When SpongeBob and Patrick leave the water, they're usually "portrayed" by an actual sponge and starfish in live-action footage. Except in the movie.
    • In "Tea at the Treedome", SpongeBob and Patrick are turned into a real sea star and sponge when they run out of water.
  • Animaniacs: When the Warner siblings met Pablo Picasso, they played a game of Pictionary. The Warners drew in a cubist style and guessed it right every time, while Picasso criticized them for not knowing how to draw. But when he drew the same objects in a realistic fashion, the Warners were stumped. Eventually, a dealer saw the Warners' drawings, mistook them for Picasso's, and bought them.
  • Lilo & Stitch,
    • When a picture of Elvis appears, it's a photograph of the real article, rather than a drawing done in the film's unique style.
    • There's also some live-action footage from a '50s monster movie about a giant spider.
  • In the "Wacky Delly" episode of Rocko's Modern Life Filburt is helping to design the cheese character for the titular new cartoon and draws a realistic (Even by Real Life standards) picture of a cheese wedge. Rocko is amazed, but Heffer quickly decides to "improve" it by erasing it and drawing a crude cheese-like stick figure which becomes the actual design for the cheese.
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures, Babs left Buster to go to New York, and Buster was stuck trying to find a replacement co-host. One of the prospects was a normal, non-anthropomorphic rabbit. It didn't last.
  • On the Beavis And Butthead episode "Heroes", a news report on the plane that the duo shot down shows a police sketch of them drawn in a more realistic style. The duo themselves were too sleepy to comment.
  • In one episode of Cat Scratch Blick rummages through a box and holds up a realistically drawn cat; not understanding what it is, he chucks it away.
  • In the Dan Vs. episode "Baseball", Dan and Chris are wanted by the police for kidnapping the baseball commissioner. When their wanted status shows up on the news, their eyewitness sketches look exactly like their real-life voice actors Curtis Armstrong and Dave Foley. Dan also notes that their sketches look nothing like them.
  • In The Daltons, one episode shows Averell painting a portrait of Rintindumb that is realistic from our point of view.
  • On Toot & Puddle, the title characters have a very realistic looking portrait or painting hanging in their bedroom. What's more, it's a picture of a man with a beard and a distinguished hat, even though they live in a World of Funny Animals.
  • In the Kaeloo episode "Let's Play Danger Island Survivor", Mr. Cat draws Stumpy as a real-life squirrel on a piece of paper.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Date", Penny's sister has a picture of their pet spider Mr. Cuddles in live-action, despite Mr. Cuddles actually being 2D. While the backgrounds are live-action and most of the world outside their city is like the real world, Mr. Cuddles was represented in a different way.
  • Most times a portrait or statue is seen in the background on Arthur, it's seen as a human, despite the characters all being animals. This includes monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. Unlike most examples, this is never commented on by the characters, and indeed they call themselves humans most of the time anyway.