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Comics Come To Life: ‘Dick Tracy’ and ‘Sin City’

Dick Tracy and Sin City are two visually stunning films that translate the art of the comics to the screen for a faithful and eye-popping adaptation. While both are noir comics, they feature incredibly different styles and tone of story. Both film’s visuals do not reflect reality, but rather bring to the screen the imaginative world that the comic artists so lovingly created in their work.

The Dick Tracy comics tell the story of a 1930s big city fast-shooting and intelligent police detective who deals with corrupt and colorful gangsters. Directed by and starring Warren Beatty, the 1990 film was fun for the whole family.

What stands out most about Dick Tracy are the sharp visuals, and the film was praised for it’s technological achievements to bring those on screen. Warren Beatty specifically chose to shoot the film entirely in the six primary colors to reflect Chester Gould’s original drawings. The backdrops, sets, and costumes are all dripping in color. Note below how the colors in the shots are amplified so you see the bright greens, reds, purples, and nothing in between.




Since this was before the days of more developed CGI, the colorful backgrounds had to be done with matte paintings. The painting required for the film ended up being so vast that Disney veteran painters Harrison Ellenshaw and Michael Llyod had to employ seven others to help them. Filmed on a soundstage first, the matte paintings were added in later.



Another visual highlight of Dick Tracy are the campy and unique villains, who are all as ugly on the outside as they are on the inside. Each villain has a standout look in the comics that was amazingly recreated in the film with the use of makeup and prosthetics. With the exception of Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice, who designed his own makeup for the character. The makeup team won the Oscar for their work.



The colorful world of Dick Tracy is complete opposite of the stark and grimy world of Sin City. The characters are seedy, ugly, and filled with debauchery of the evilest kind. Director Robert Rodriguez was incredibly determined to make the 2005 film of Sin City as close to graphic novels as possible. Most of the film is a direct shot-for-shot translation of the comics, as well as very little changes in Frank Miller’s original dialogue. Sin City was also praised for it’s groundbreaking visuals. At the time, it was one of the few fully-digital live action films.


For the setting and background, Sin City was one of the first films to use a digital backlot, the actors filmed entirely in front of green screens and the background was added in post-production. Often there was very little set pieces, furniture, or even actors actually there. With digital sets, the film was able to digitally create it’s own neo-noir stylized look.

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Another important technological advancement was the use of colorization. The comic is drawn in either stark black and white, and the technological advancements meant the filmmakers could pick and choose the highlights of shadows for each shot to resemble the comic. This simply wouldn’t be possible if you were just filming in normal black and white.

lucille & marv


Sin City also uses bright colors for certain objects or parts of a person, eyes, hair, a car, or Dwight’s sneakers. And, most notably, the Yellow Bastard. These colors are sharp and bright against the darkness of the background, just as in the comics.



Sin City also employed prosthetics and makeup. Mickey Rourke sat for hours in a makeup chair for Marv’s unique nose and chin. Nick Stahl was completely transformed for the malicious Yellow Bastard, but in blue to be digitally corrected later.


Both films look as cartoony as possible so the actors look like they are stepping quite literally out of the pages. These amazing adaptations employ the use of film’s greatest technologies to create an work of art equal to the comics they are based on.

About The Author
Caroline Madden
Caroline Madden
Caroline has a BFA in Acting from Shenandoah Conservatory, and is currently getting an MA in Cinema Studies at Savannah College of Art and Design. She served as the Entertainment Editor and writer for her college newspaper, The 'Doah. She currently also writes at Screenqueens, Bitch Flicks, and her blog. (check out the link below!) You can usually find her listening to Bruce Springsteen or watching movies.

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