Boarding Action


Two things you need to know about boarding action:

  • You're going to have to draw lots of panels
  • Learn what to move and what t0 keep still



The sequence above was done by Vadim Bazhanov for RIO. I really like his simple yet clear style.

Dean Wellins did this sequence from Zootopia. It's practically animated!


Your main goal is to show the action clearly. Cool action does not necessarily mean flashy camera work and cool angles. Those things can help but you've got to have the drawing chops to pull it off. More importantly is finding the right key pose or combination of poses that describes the action the clearest.


The punch in the first instance is staged poorly. The second punch is only one drawing but works so much better. Often times the aftermath of an action tells more than the lead up.

An Approach to Action

Think about the story you have to board and then start drawing shots. Doesn't matter if they are in order or not, just EXPLORE! Find the best angle!,

Sometimes you have more than one right angle. Trial and error! You can rearrange the shots later.




Typically action is shot with deep space staging but if you punctuate it with flat staging you can give the scene some visual contrast.



To keep your action boards clear, keep your action happening in the same part of the frame. Once you have the viewers attention on a certain spot of the board keep it there.

Vashi Nedomansky said this of Mad Max:

One of the many reasons MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is so successful as an action film is the editing style. By using "Eye Trace" and "Crosshair Framing" techniques during the shooting, the editor could keep the important visual information vital in one spot...the Center of the Frame. Because almost every shot was center framed, comprehending the action requires no hunting of each new shot for the point of interest. The viewer doesn't need 3 or 4 frames to figure out where to look. It's like watching an old hand-drawn flip book whiz by. It's always in the same spot!


Mad Max: Center Framed from Vashi Nedomansky on Vimeo.



Follow the red dot:




You need variation on your boards to keep the illusion of movement going in your boards. Use 2 or 3 drawing cycles like the running guy below:



If you place your finger on the stick man above you will see that he mostly stays in the same part of the frame for the action.



Use opposing action arcs. Notice the opposing body positions, it makes the visuals more interesting.




Remember to keep your silhouettes clear. What's the guy on the right doing? Who knows? If your silhouette is clear, your drawing will most likely read.

Feast Your eyes on these beautiful sketches by Bill Peet

Great silhouette and action. You can feel these drawings move!!

Avoid repetition in your shot selection. Don't always go for the low angle foreground shot with something off in the distance. If you find that you are repeating a certain kind of shot, freeze frame some action scenes and learn some new shots.



You can also spice up your panels with effects:





 A few more Ideas:



Just don't get caught up in effects and crap like that. GOOD, CLEAR DRAWINGS!!


Since we already referenced Mad Max, here's a great action scene from the 1982 2nd MM movie 



In this scene we are learning character from the action. It's not just a bunch of cool shots, with cool action. Cool action without character will leave your audience unimpressed. Think of any transformers movie.


Here's what we learn about Mad Max from this scene:

  • He's a good driver, dodged obstacles where the others couldn't
  • He needs gas 
  • He's not a beast out for blood
  • He's uses his brains over brute force
  • He has some humanity as he feels the other dude's pain
  • He's tough enough to survive this world
  • Gas is precious


When you start boarding, just do it. I never do thumbnails. I think it's a waste of time. Draw it full size because if you make a good drawing it's done. You can use it! You don't have to draw it 'for real'.



Main character: Has a secret. Is tough but cries at the sight of babies. Show us one more thing about this character.

Secondary character: Desperately want's to find out the secret. Knows about the baby crying thing. Is afraid of heights.

Third character: Unrelated to the other two, gets caught in the cross fire. This one just want's to eat a sandwich.

Pick one of these set ups:

Foot Chase:

Two characters, one chasing the other parkour style across the tops of buildings. A third gets in the way. One of the runners is overweight.

Sky Dive:

One character falls out of a plane, a second jumps out to save the first. One has a wing suit. There are some hot air balloons in the way with a third character on board.


Check out the fun action bit below: 




Random Storyboard

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