Tutorial: Action Pose Character Sheet

This time we’re going to learn about developing a character sheet featuring a series of different action poses. By creating a character sheet, you can always refer to it while you’re drawing your digital comics to ensure that your character design is consistent from every angle. This tutorial will show you ten (10) of the basic ‘must-have’ poses in your file. You can add or adapt more poses to fill out your sheet or make multiple sheets for more precise actions and angles. Let’s get started!

The Character Sheet

Character sheets have been used for years by illustrators, animators and artists for the purpose of maintaining accurate renderings of their main characters. How annoying would it be to have to constantly figure out how to draw your character in each situation they’re placed in? By having your handy reference, you’ll remember key changes to your character’s look in all sorts of angles and actions. This will improve your workflow and make you more efficient in the long run.

Here is a list of the action poses you could include in your character sheet to get you started. Take note of the points describing each pose!

1: The Forward Run

Your character will no doubt be in a running position, so here’s some of the key elements needed to illustrate a running character.

  • The back foot should be flat to the ground surface and appear smaller as it is receding in the distance
  • The front leg should be lifted up with the knee appearing much larger than normal. This is a foreshortening trick used to show depth.
  • The crotch area will be half hidden by the front leg as it is lifted and the knee/shin area will obscure it from view.
  • The thigh should be foreshortened as well and made to look a bit thicker than the thigh on the back leg.
  • The arm opposite the raised leg should be bent at 90 degrees and drawn facing inward in a backwards L (shown above)
  • The other arm should be drawn at approx 90 degrees and recede into the distance
  • The shoulders should be on angled downwards slightly towards the side of the inward tucked arm

2: The Jumping Kick

The Jumping High Kick requires the use of foreshortening in order to fool the eye into seeing a raised foot. in this example, we have an arm and a leg coming towards the viewer.

  • The back leg should be rendered a bit smaller to indicate that it is receding into the distance
  • The front foot should be the largest form in the foreground
  • The rest of the leg will be obscured by the foot, but draw in a part of the hip socket for visual reference – without it, the foot appears to simply float
  • Draw the foot with the toes outstretched as if  your character is balancing on the tips of their toes
  • Draw one arm extended out from the side of the body as if the character is balancing themselves
  • The hand reaching towards the viewer should also be drawn larger
  • The remaining parts of the arm will be slightly obscured – draw in portions of the bicep and forearm for visual coherence
  • The head should be slightly tucked into the chest, the neck shortened, and the shoulders raised

3: The Bull Run

The Bull Run is a head down full tilt run pose similar to a football running back plowing through his opponents. Similar to the basic run pose, the Bull Run is a more powerful version used for more intensity.

  • Note the positions of the arms – bent at the elbow to indicate ‘pumping’
  • The knee on the forward leg should be the closest drawn element
  • The rear leg should recede in the distance
  • The toes on the back foot should be flat with the ground
  • The crotch area should be slightly hidden from view
  • Use foreshortening on the thighs of the front leg to create depth
  • Tuck the head in to the chest and elevate the shoulders
  • Draw more of the top portion of the head with the chin tucked towards the chest
  • Angle the shoulders downwards
  • Hands should be balled into fists
  • Muscles should be extremely tense

4: Self Defense Ready Pose

You’ve seen this pose a million times in action movies. The martial arts masters often begin in a ready pose for self defense.

  • Draw the head upright and facing the opponent
  • Both arms should be drawn with slightly bent elbows tucked inwards to the body
  • The back leg should be positioned to look like it is balancing the character
  • Both knees on the legs should be bent, but in different direction (one bent upwards, one bent backward)
  • The toes on the back foot should be flat to the floor
  • The stance should be wide
  • Hands should be drawn flat or fingers curled slightly (no fists)

5: Flying Towards the Viewer

This pose uses extreme foreshortening to give the impression that the character is coming right off the page. This can also translate to a high angle view of someone jumping upwards.

  • Draw the hands outstretched and very large
  • The shoulders should be tucked close to the head
  • The arms will have to be drawn foreshortened with only slight views of the forearms and biceps
  • The head should be drawn fairly large with hardly any of the neck showing
  • The torso should recede into the distance in a triangular shape – wide at the shoulders, and tapering at the crotch
  • The legs should continue this tapered look, heading towards a vanishing point
  • The sections between hip and knee, and knee and ankle will be drawn considerably smaller
  • The feet should be drawn very small to indicate depth

6: The Basic Crouch

Another familiar pose used for superhero covers and splash pages is the basic crouch / forward spring pose. This pose is commonly used due to its dynamic look.

  • The head should be drawn at full frontal view
  • The neck should be obscured by the head
  • One arm should be raised and bent at the elbow, cocked and receding backwards
  • The shoulder of this arm should be drawn behind the head
  • The shoulder of the forward arm should be drawn below the chin
  • The forward arm should be drawn slightly larger to create slight foreshortening and depth
  • One leg should be outstretched with tense muscles, drawn at normal size
  • The other leg should be bent completely, with the calf touching the hamstrings
  • The toes on foot of the bent leg should be flat to the ground in a crouch pose and pointed downwards in a forward spring pose
  • The torso should be turned outwards to show some torsion

7: The Coiled Leap

This pose is commonly seen in manga and Asian influenced comics featuring swordsmen or martial artists. It is a contorted coiled lunging pose prior to a strike. This pose shows a lot of potential energy and comes in handy in a fight scene.

  • The forward leg is drawn with a large thigh muscle – this is the leading part of the body coming towards the viewer
  • The forward leg is bent and the calf is hidden behind this large thigh
  • The foot is slightly shown for visual reference
  • The back leg is also tightly bent
  • The calf touches the hamstring
  • The leg is drawn much smaller to create the illusion of depth
  • The torso is turned in order to display more of the back
  • The forward arm is drawn with a large shoulder muscle and the arm bent at the elbow receding backwards
  • The arm in the background also recedes backwards, with the shoulder muscle raised slightly to show strain
  • The head is tucked into the chest slightly
  • The character’s line of vision is straight ahead, but the head is cocked downwards

8: Pointing Backwards

This may not be a common pose, but it is dynamic enough to show both the front and back parts of the body in an interesting manner.

  • The head should appear tucked into the shoulder
  • The shoulder on the background arm should be minimally drawn
  • The background arm should be drawn a bit smaller (receding into distance)
  • The hip should be jutting out slightly on the forward leg
  • The forward leg can be bent slightly or posed in a different manner
  • The toes on the forward leg should be flat with the ground
  • The background leg can be drawn with minimal detail as it is hidden from view from the forward hip and front leg.
  • The pointing arm should be drawn fully outstretched and at normal length
  • The center line of the body should be facing away from the outstretched arm
  • The torso should be curved slightly to show movement in the upper body

9: The Balancing Act

This is another simple pose that can be used for a variety of different situations involving both arms being outstretched.

  • The head should be drawn normally
  • The shoulders should be elevated slightly, but not to the point where the neck disappears
  • The angle of the shoulders should dip slightly
  • The arms should be drawn in a line straight across – dependent on the angle of the shoulders
  • The arms are both drawn to proper proportions (no foreshortening)
  • The hips should be drawn at an opposite angle as the shoulders
  • One leg should be lifted, with the knee being the closest point to the viewer (similar to the run poses)
  • The hip socket should be obscured slightly by the foreshortened thigh
  • The front leg should overlap the position of the back leg, indicating a walking movement
  • The toes on the foot on the rear leg should be flat on the ground
  • The rear leg will be obscured mainly by the front leg

10) The Low Crouch

Similar to the basic crouch position, the Low Crouch is used for creating the appearance of strength and potential explosiveness of the character. This pose is common for characters like Wolverine, Batman, Spider-Man, etc – characters who are powerful and leap into action.

  • The head should stick out away from the body, with the neck outstretched
  • The back should be heavily arched
  • The shoulder on the forward arm should be large and prominent
  • The forward arm should be bent, and the muscles appearing taut
  • The background arm should be drawn slightly smaller and recede into the distance
  • The bicep of the background arm should obscure the forearm
  • The forward arm should overlap and obscure the midsection of the character
  • Both legs should be bent
  • The forward knee should be drawn close to the body to create a ‘hunched over’ appearance
  • The rear leg should recede into the distance
  • The foot of the rear leg should have bent toes touching the ground as if they are propelling the figure forward

Once you’ve tried out these various poses, you can try hundreds of other variations to fill out your character sheets. Scour the Internet for character sheet examples, and you’ll find things like this:

Now you’ll notice the poses we create in this tutorial are merely basic forms. Use those forms to develop your detailed character sheets, in conjunction with your Character Turnaround Sheets and your Facial Expressions to create detailed Character Sheets like the ones below.

That’s the lesson for today. I hope you enjoyed learning the basics of developing character action pose sheets for your digital comics. See you next Tuesday for another tutorial on idrawdigital!

7 thoughts on “Tutorial: Action Pose Character Sheet

  1. Pingback: How to draw a human figure « Goldie Pinklesweet

  2. I am so pleased with your open sharing of such wonderful tutorial. I aim to become a decent artist by taking these educating and entertaining works. Best wishes to you, Thank you so very much. :)

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  4. I’ve been drawing for some time and I never knew about character sheets until I saw this.This will be quite useful to me. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks a bunch! Stumbled across this page when looking for action pose references – what I got was a handy comprehensive for a TON instead! This is even great for people who’ve been drawing for a long time. 😀

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