Follow TV Tropes


Super Identikit

Go To
"That's them!"

In TV, the sketch artists who work for the FBI or the police, even if they just work at a minor metropolitan precinct, are talented almost to the point of clairvoyance. They could be taking a description from a drug-addled hobo who saw the suspect for about four seconds from a hundred yards away, and the resulting picture will be so accurate that you'd think the suspect posed for it. In real life, of course, police sketches are somewhat less precise.

Also falling under this trope are the experts who perfectly reconstruct someone's face off of four square inches of decaying skull, and computer aging. (In the real world, though, the latter has on occasion proven freakily accurate, making it at least sometimes a case of Truth in Television.)

Contrast with Facial Composite Failure.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Animated 
  • The Running Gag in Tangled of Flynn Ryder's wanted posters always getting the nose comically wrong, which continued into the series, highlights the fact that every other feature on his face is exactly accurate. The series eventually reveals that the sketch artist is an elderly man with thick glasses (prompting Eugene to forgive him for his problems with the nose), which only makes it that much more incredible how accurate everything else is.
  • Etch-A-Sketch can do this in Toy Story 2; after Woody is taken, the other toys are conducting an "investigation", with Etch drawing a sketch of the guy who took him. When Buzz asks him to draw the man in a chicken suit, everyone gasps as they recognize Big Al, the owner of the Al's Toy Barn toy store.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casino Royale (1967) has a scene at MI6/Q Branch with an identikit screen in the background shifting around features that end up forming Hitler's face.
  • In the film Diabolik, Valmont has one of his girls describe Eva so that one of his goons can use a device to create a picture of her. The effect is… interesting to say the least. Aside from the girl giving a very hard to follow description that no-one could possible draw a likeness from, the face on screen appears to change at whim. Why, one could even assume that the images we saw on the device were nothing more than pre-rendered animation, but that would just be silly.
    • And as MST3K points out, one of the women on the screen briefly looks exactly like a female red-haired Hitler.
  • In For Your Eyes Only, James Bond and Q use an "Identi-graph" computer to construct the face of someone Bond saw pay off a hitman. Despite some Rule of Funny moments, they were able to identify their suspect.
    Bond: I said a nose, Q, not a banana.
  • Played for Laughs in Haunted Mansion (2023). Bruce and Ben give a police sketch artist a vague description of the Hatbox Ghost and he produces a perfect likeness. Taken even further when Bruce requests the artist do a version "with skin", and the result is a perfect likeness of Alistair Crump, which allows the gang to identify the ghost for real.
  • The "funky description" schtick was also done in Johnny English, where the aforementioned spy makes up an "aggressor" to cover his accidentally knocking out of a security chief. The "aggressor" looks like Ronald McDonald's Evil Twin, yet a matching person appears in the final scene reading a newspaper.
  • In Sketch Artist II: Hands That See, the only survivor of a Serial Killer-rapist is a blind woman. The titular character manages to create a perfectly detailed sketch (complete with hair color) based on her feeling the guy's face. Naturally, when the murderer is caught and brought to trial, the defense starts raising doubts about the sketch's accuracy… until it's repeated just as perfectly with a random guy off the street.
  • In The Usual Suspects, a sketch artist is brought in to assist in describing the ramblings of a hospitalized, badly burnt Hungarian gangster. Despite the language barrier (with the description being relayed through a translator, for the artist doesn't know any Hungarian while the gangster doesn't speak English), he draws a perfectly accurate picture of Keyser Söze/Verbal Kint.

  • Averted in Incompetence. Harry's image is placed on Euronews and it looks more like Dr Zaius than it does Harry.
  • It's implied in Inheritance Cycle when Roran goes into a city (after he's become a wanted fugitive) and sees his picture, which is accurate with the exception of the beard. In the poster right next to his, Eragon himself is pictured, which Roran recognizes immediately.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Altered Carbon: Detective Kirstin Ortega has to do up an identikit of a man they dub the Ghostwalker, because he doesn't show up on any camera. She shows this identikit to Takeshi Kovacs, who later has an Oh, Crap! when he realises this man has just stepped into a lift with Ortega.
  • The "four inches of decaying skull" version happened in an episode of Bones.
    • This is somewhat justified in Bones, because Angela was hired specifically for her artistic skill and ability to extrapolate faces from remains, and there are real specialists who have this ability.
    • There have been at least a couple of cases where she hasn't been able to reconstruct a face because there wasn't enough skull left.
    • And one notable instance where, upon being given just the skin (the team found only the skin of the victim, with the contents, including bones, having been removed) Angela was unable to recreate a face from it due to lacking the underlying architecture. This didn't stop Hodge and Zack from trying to inflate the skin-face like a balloon in an attempt to help her...
    • Several flaws in it show up in "The Priest in the Courtyard". When giving the sketch out to a congregation, one member studies it for a bit before asking her to give the face facial hair and more weight. Only then is he able to guess the identity. When Booth and Brennan ask the man's superior why he didn't recognize the sketch, he replies that the picture had kind eyes and the real man did not. Angela indeed said earlier that she chose to give him kind eyes, demonstrating that personal choices can factor in and cause problems.
  • Played oh-so-straight on Castle: Nearly every episode has the cast picking out a suspect based on sketches that could only feasibly have been drawn if the subjects were posing for them.
  • On The Closer, on one occasion, Brenda brandishes accurate pictures of her detectives (who were identified being where they shouldn't be) to prove her point. On other occasion, she's seen grimacing over a ridiculously vague drawing. The strangest version came when her wacky, airbrained sister decided she would describe the killer from her "psychic vision." Incredibly, she successfully describes… Chief Pope. Whom she'd never met.
  • Subverted in an episode of Corner Gas: a police officer listens and sketches as a perpetrator is described, then holds up a page full of squiggles and asks if it looks like the thief.
  • CSI:
    • There is one particularly grating example. In "Face Lift", they have a picture of a freckle-faced young girl grinning a toothy, squinty grin. They take us through the early stages of artificially ageing her, starting to make her look like a freckle-faced grinning adult. Then later when we see the final result, it's a picture of an unsmiling, closed-mouthed, wide-eyed young woman, which couldn't possibly have been extrapolated from the earlier picture.
    • They also once manage to put together a recognisable face out of a nine year's decayed skeleton; bones provide a gender and possible ethnicity, dental estimates the age. Then some computer work and a tissue database put muscles and other features on the skull, the shapes suggest more ethnicity information leading to hair and eye colour, and Archie does the rest.
  • CSI: NY:
    • Subverted in "Necrophilia Americana." Mac asks a young boy who witnessed a murder to sit down with a sketch artist. He ends up perfectly describing a character from one of his comic books. His traumatic experience caused him to confuse the events in the comic with reality.
    • "American Dreamers": An intact skeleton is more than a decade old, but had been sheltered from the elements. Instead of using any kind of age progression, Aiden draws a pencil sketch before using hands-on techniques to "flesh out" the skull and sculpt the face with clay. Someone who'd met the young man did recognize him but had never gotten his name, plus he had no record and wasn't in any database so they never did identify him, subverting the trope.
    • Aiden's face is reconstructed after her charred body is found in "Heroes". Hawkes uses computer programs to build the face after the flesh is removed from her skull. He knows the technique doesn’t produce exact matches, so when he shows Mac that it was Aiden, he comes prepared with her police records photo and shows him how it matches her skull. This is a real life technique to confirm a match.
  • In Dark (2017), the identikit of Sinister Minister Noah looks like someone took a modern passport photo of him and ran it through a greyscale filter or two. Keep in mind that the sketch artist accomplished this with nothing but a description provided by a mute pre-teen girl who interacted with Noah for a minute at most.
  • Subverted in Dark Angel when Max is seen stealing medications from a pharmacy in Flushed. Police pictures of her quickly land her in jail—along with about a dozen other women that approximately fit her description. Eventually, they all are released.
  • Subverted in an episode of Dexter. The title character has just killed, in cold blood, a man who was about to commit murder; he is now stressed about a sketch being made from a description given by a young witness – the boy who was about to be killed. Dexter gets a glimpse of the image before it is completed; it seems to resemble him and throws him into a further anxious frenzy. However, at the end of the episode the full picture is revealed to be a sketch of Jesus; the traumatized and delirious boy conflated the two as his savior.
  • Used, though possibly as parody, in the beginning of Farscape in which they peel back an image of a spaceship to reveal the pilot.
  • Subverted in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where a sketch artist is told to draw a man with big, dark shades and a hooded sweatshirt. Both Detective Munch and a lead commented that this looked exactly like the Unabomber.
  • Subverted in Life On Mars: Based on a witness description, Ray produces a sketch that looks like a Monty Python's Flying Circus character.
  • NCIS: Like many tropes on NCIS, this is Played With depending on the writer and plot requirements. In one episode, it's played for laughs when Palmer's attempt at describing his attacker ends with a super villain-esque result. Other times, it's played incredibly straight, like when McGee creates a program that successfully de-ages a suspect about ten years. Still other times, it's averted when they get a vague pencil sketch that could be anybody.
  • Quincy, M.E. once reconstructed a picture of an entire person from a single fragment of a thigh bone, including hair and eye color (although, to give the show credit, Quincy admitted he was only guessing on the hair and eyes based on statistical averages).
  • In one episode of RoboCop: The Series, Murphy sees a black guy who tries to kill him. Later, he takes a photo of his childhood friend, and computer-ages it exactly into the guy he saw, complete with beard and hat. He is, of course, exactly right.
  • Parodied in Strangers with Candy, in the episode where Jerri hits Mr. Jellineck with her car. The police sketch artist is told the perpetrator was male, but nevertheless produces a very accurate sketch of Jerri, which, when he puts it down, reveals her sitting right in front of him. Nobody suspects a thing.
  • Phoenix. The Major Crime Squad comes up with a photofit of one of the bombers from a girl that he raped. Unfortunately they're not allowed to make it public because it might jeopardize the case (by linking the rape with the bombing and thus prejudicing the jury). The police lawyers are even reluctant to have it distributed to other police officers for fear that one of them will tip off the press.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied by Homestar Runner in "Strong Bad Is In Jail Cartoon", where the King of Town tries to describe the person who stole his crown (Strong Bad) to Bubs. The picture ends up as one of some guy Coach Z calls "Biscuit Dough Hands Man", who looks nothing like Strong Bad.

  • Subverted in The Order of the Stick, in "C.P.P.D. Blues". A police artist draws two highly-detailed portraits of the lead suspects in a serial murder case (Nale and Thog) from eyewitness descriptions alone – and is immediately fired because his realistic drawings look nothing like the simple art style the OOTS world exists in, rendering them useless for identifying anyone.

    Web Original 
  • You Have Become Your Avatar: The police sketches in a news report accurately described Fox and Joshua when they were at the scene of the explosion. Fox criticized the sketches because they got Homura's clothes and eye color wrong. Fortunately, they changed their appearance to prevent the police from spotting them.

    Western Animation 
  • An especially egregious version occurred in Kim Possible, though it didn't involve a human: a small, rice-grain size fragment (from a digital reconstruction of the crime scene) had the weapon, an exploding golf ball, extrapolated from it.
  • Played with in an episode of the animated Men in Black series: The "sketch" artist used the witness's face instead of a sketchpad to physically recreate the criminal's appearance.
  • Played with in an episode of Quack Pack, when Donald Duck thrashes the living-room while playing with his nephews' VR-videogame, which he'd been admonishing them about earlier, he makes up a description for an assailant to cover for it. This turns out to perfectly match someone - a known criminal with an unbelieveably brutish appearance. Involved in numerous crimes, nobody had ever dared to bear witness against him – and he's then arrested based on Donald's bogus claims.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons when Homer makes up details of an imaginary assailant, picking features that are bizarre and unlikely. The cops then manage to find someone who fits this imaginary description: Groundskeeper Willie.
    • Parodied again on The Simpsons when they're looking for Homer's mom (a fugitive from the police) - they show someone an old picture of her, and the person isn't sure, and then they say "according to our computer aging program she should be... 25 years older!" with the only thing on the screen being a large number 25.
    • Parodied as well in The Simpsons Movie similar to Wrongfully Accused when they are on their way to Alaska and see a "Wanted!" Poster for themselves. While Marge frantically tries to keep the shopkeeper's attention away from the image, Bart adds weird features to the picture, immediately after which the shopkeeper cries out "Oh my God, there they are!" and a family looking exactly like Bart's modified version of the Simpsons walks in.
  • A sketch posted of the main four boys of South Park was incredibly realistic (though for some reason Kenny looked vaguely Inuit).