Anime Architecture: Backgrounds of Japan, House of Illustration London

26 May 2017 – 10 September 2017

A showcase of the hand-drawn backgrounds for iconic Japanese anime films reveals the painstaking process behind their production.

Appearing at once familiar and alien, the architecture in Japanese anime films of the 1990s onwards is often characterised by a wash of faceless blue skyscrapers that encroach on the chaotic wooden housing below. Displaying impeccably researched studies, this intriguing exhibition examines how these backdrops emerged as a response to the rapid growth of Asian megacities and quickly became an integral part of the science fiction genre.

At the centre of the exhibition is the 1995 cyberpunk classic Ghost in the Shell, which had the highest ever budget for an anime movie at the time to ensure the very best visuals. Working off photographs of Hong Kong and Tokyo’s dilapidated Kowloon Walled City – taken shortly before it was demolished – prestigious art director Hiromasa Ogura was responsible for producing the exquisitely detailed scenes that flitter between rain-drenched, neon-lit streets and sprawling tower blocks.

The display of hand-drafted preparation drawings by Ogura and his team offers insight into the meticulous and incredibly time-consuming creative process behind each backdrop, which may only appear on screen for a few seconds. First, a sketch of the scene is produced in pencil alongside an image board to determine the colour palette; then it’s over to the layout artist to provide more precise positioning before the background can finally be completed.

Showing a preoccupation with pipelines and cables which has been likened to works by the Dutch geometric genius MC Escher, drawings by Takashi Watabe for the 2008 sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence are also on show. Other highlights hail from Patlabor the Movie, directed by Mamoru Oshii in 1989, and the 2001 film Metropolis, based on the original German silent film and manga cartoons created by Osamu Tezuka.