The Art Of Akira


The Art of Akira Exhibit blog


Announcing: The Art Of Akira Exhibit

Art of Akira Exhibit in the press:

IO9 (gallery essay)
IO9 (article)

Quick links: Art of Akira Exhibit site, Twitter, Facebook Fan Page, ToonSeum


Regular readers of my blog and my books know that I'm obessive about the things I love. I tend to get bored easily, so I find unique and interesting challenges to keep me busy. I like showing people how great awesome things can be.

With this new project, I believe I've found the exact right challenge to combine all of these character traits into one singular goal: To teach the entire world just why the movie Akira is a cinematic, artistic and technical masterpiece.

To give you a brief look at why I feel Akira is one of the most astounding accomplishments in filmmaking, animation and artistic history, I've created a quick two minute video which sums it up quite neatly, I think:

(Can't see the video above? Here's the direct link to YouTube)

If it weren't for the fact that I actually owned this original art, I'd have never known just how amazing that cityscape was, or how detailed the individual pieces that went into making that scene were. But because I do, and I have, I feel that the world - especially appreciators of animation, film and art, needs to see this material.

This is why I've partnered with ToonSeum to create the Art of Akira Exhibit.

About The Art of Akira Exhibit:

The Purpose:

In 2010, the historical and artistic significance of Akira cannot be understated. As the popularity and influence of animation continues to expand, the Akira Exhibit gives audiences the unique opportunity to take a deeper look into this unparalleled achievement in filmmaking.

No other film has ever looked like Akira, before or since. It’s stunningly fluid and detailed animation often required as many as nine separate cel layers. The 125 minute feature was comprised of over 160,000 cels and almost as many backgrounds, each one completely hand–drawn and hand-painted. Purists recognize Akira as the last completely hand-created animated feature, as cel animation quickly gave way to cheaper digital production and CGI technology.

Filmmakers, animators, art students and anime fans have largely missed out on in-depth looks at how original, cel-based animation was created - and what better example than the magnum opus that is Akira? No other animation in history - from Japan, the United States or otherwise - focused so much attention to detail in every single aspect, on every single frame and background. Each piece is a study in color theory, layout, motion dynamics and technical artistry. And it is my mission, along with ToonSeum, to expose as many people as possible to the brilliance inherient in this collection.

The Collection:

I own one of, if not the largest collection of original Akira production art, cels, backgrounds and layouts. I've been collecting them since I was about 14 years old. My first piece was, by some peoples' estimates, a non concequential piece. I got it free for pre-ordering the laserdisc of Akira at my local comic shop. It was of a crowd of people walking toward the upcoming demonstration against the government's declaration of martial law, and looked somewhat like this:

Click for high res version.

It wasn't this exact cel, however. This was a replacement, the closest I could find to my original. During the dot com crash of 2001, I had to liquidate the vast majority of my collection in order to keep from losing my house. I only kept a few cels. But as times got better, I was able to buy back a good bit of my collection, plus a good many more - some coming in larger collections as the owners no longer wanted or could afford to stay in the Akira cel market.

Sometime after I began re-buying my original cels, I lucked into a key setup - a background, all of the "book" (supporting background) cels, and individual character cels that made up a scene. It was accompanied by the layouts and pencils for that setup.

This is an example of a key setup - all layers of book and backgrounds, with a cel from the sequence. Click for high res version.

The second I laid eyes on the entire arrangement, something clicked inside of me. I realized that there was far, far more to the production art of Akira than cool cels featuring neat bikes and characters I recognized. I saw the beauty in the actual technical setup and creation of the sequences. I became obsessed. I began researching sequence numbers, framecounts, layouts and the cels that went with them. I went on a hunt for backgrounds and full scenes worth of cels.

It became my mission to unify and reunite as much of this films' building blocks as I possibly could. And as I amassed my collection, the sheer volume of hand-painted work that was used to create it astounded me. It was then that I realized that there will never, ever be another movie like Akira... And everyone with any interest in it at all, be they fans, film students, animation professionals or appreciators of art, deserved to see this material in its full, complete state.

Much if not all of the original cels for early animation - Hannah Barberra, Speed Racer, Astroboy, even some Disney - were either a) buried in a landfill, b) incenerated, or if the studio was really low on funds, c) washed clean and reused on another production. Most of the stuido employess - artists included - viewed production art the same way a carpenter views sawdust - a necessary byproduct of creating a finished work. And the materials were treated thusly.

Akira's original production art made its way to America in several shipping containers, with the purpose of being distributed as freebies and incentives to entice people to buy the VHS and LaserDisc of the film. When the initiatives backfired and the market wasn't receptive to collecting the material, most if not all of it was earmarked for inceneration.

The waters become quite murky at this point, and I've never gotten the full story the same way from anyone I've asked that was even remotely close to the situation. But the bottom line is that boxes upon boxes of cels, layouts, backgrounds and drawings ended up making their way to conventions and collectible shops where they were parted out, split up, and treated rather miserably.

Until a few dedicated collectors began a mission to safeguard what is left of the collections. Myself, James "Krafty" Krefta, Howard Penner and Nichibei Anime (to name a few) all seperately and without coordinating with one another began collecting up and unifying the material we could find. Over the years, I sought out full caches of cels and artwork and bought or traded for them on the spot. When I inherited Howard Penner's collection, a good bit of the Nechiebe collection and what was left of Krafty's pieces, I became the largest private owner of Akira production artwork in the world.

The Exhibit:

The exhibit is currently broken into two phases of development. The first will be the ToonSeum launch and display, starting in April of 2010. This will consist of 80 - 100 pieces of original Akira production art, consisting of cels, backgrounds, douga (sketches) and pencil layouts.

The exhibit will feature video displays accompaning key sequences to show visitors the original clips that the cels are from, along with detailed summaries of the production of each cel and/or background. We hope to supply iPhone / smartphone users with a handheld tour app to accompany the exhibit, to expand and display even more artwork for visitors to appreciate.

In addition to the production art, there will also be a display of original film release materials and collectables, including toys, video games, theater posters and other items.

The second phase will be a travelling exhibit, displaying at the major conventions throughout 2010 and 2011. We are currently in contact with DragonCon, San Diego ComicCon, HeroesCon and WonderCon to set up and exhibit the Art of Akira Exhibit. With enough support both communial and financial, we hope to travel the exhibit to host museums and exhibit halls in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Austin and Seattle, eventually taking the exhibit overseas.

The goal of the exhibit is to give the fans of Akira, students of art and film, and appreciators of quality an experience that will expand on and increase appreciation of Akira - however, this exhibit will be exciting and interesting for even the most casual visitor. Hardcore fans can bring their familes and count on their not being bored.

The Akira Exhibit promises to be an enthralling experience, sure to captivate any fan of animation and graphic storytelling, from anime enthusiast to those witnessing Otomo’s grand vision for the fist time.

How You Can Help:

Absolutely first and foremost: share this announcement and all associated pictures and videos with your friends and family. Anyone you know who is a fan of Akira, let them know this is happening. The biggest priority right now is awareness and interest - we want to know how much you're looking forward to this!

Next, anyone with any contacts directly or indirectly relating to film studios, comic publishers, artists or other interested parties who can help us get awareness for this project, please get us in contact. I've made contact with several illustrators in the comic book world who will be contributing original pieces based on Akira for auction for this exhibit. The live action movie will be coming out through Warner Brothers in 2011 - we'd love to partner with them and help promote the movie's launch with this exhibit.

Finally, we are accepting direct financial contributions at the Art of Akira Exhibit KickStarter page.


We've since moved to Paypal to collect funds for this exhibit:

Pledges are 100% secure, and 100% of funds collected go directly to the creation of this exhibit. There are nearly 100 installations to build, pieces to frame, programs and promotional materials to build and print... And that stuff isn't free. If you have a spare fiver and want to help bring the Art of Akira to the world at large, consider pledging. I'll love you forever.

Finally, I'll leave you with high res scans of the art featured in the YouTube video I posted above. Thank you SO much for reading this and helping me make this happen.




At February 6, 2010 at 5:10 AM , Blogger Fiend's Brave Victim said...

I have some cells from Akira, including some from the close up of the guy's hand holding the red hand grenade after Kaneda is detained. Interested in buying them? Stunning film anyway, was a big influence on me.

At February 24, 2010 at 2:53 PM , Blogger JtP said...

Absolutely - email me directly!

At June 7, 2010 at 1:52 AM , Blogger rohan said...

I've never forgiven myself for passing up buying an Akira cel in my teens - it was of Tetsuo in his red cape, staring down at the smoking sphere containing Akira's remains just before he opens it.... why did i not buy it? why?

At February 4, 2011 at 4:22 PM , Blogger escapevelocity said...

Man, I had over a dozen setups back in the 1990s. Would've donated to them to this project if it had existed then. My favorite was the scene where the two gang members enter the bar and we see Tetsuo seated behind them, high atop a pile of rubble, laughing down at them. The setup had the painted pile, tetsuo on his own cel, and each gang member on their own cel. Ah, the memories.

At February 15, 2011 at 8:29 PM , Blogger andy said...

I believe I have the ultimate cel & douga from this movie! I bought approx 6 years ago from a collector in australia. let me know & i can send pics for you.

At April 18, 2011 at 9:57 PM , Blogger Daniel said...

love the website! im from toronto canada please schedule us in for next years fan expo heres the website this is canada's largest comic expo i would love the to see the art of skria exhibit!!!

At June 25, 2011 at 1:10 PM , Blogger AgentDNB said...


Thank you for doing the Akira/Call event last night at Thinkgeek. Your collection is truly unique. Thank you again

At January 20, 2013 at 5:34 PM , Blogger Antonio Arroyo said...

Hi! I'm from Spain, and have to tell i really apreciate the art of Akira. I've got the Bluray and spend hours & hours just looking the backgrounds. It's plenty of details, so extra-realistic! But there are too many cans of drinks in my opinion.
Also the artist Rotobox Vinyl Antomica did a fantastic job with their Kaneda Parallel robot-bike.
And they're making Yamagata robot-bike too. (myself will be the glad owner of it)

At April 3, 2013 at 2:49 PM , Blogger Dave Park said...

Hi there. Again I have came across an old stash I acquired around 20 or so years ago. I have a total of 50, all unstuck, all with douga, no UV damage (as have been locked away dry stored since ownership. Mainly featuring colonel shikishima. I was going to part them out on eBay and the like but came across this page and thought they may be of interest?

At May 21, 2013 at 3:47 PM , Blogger James Krefta said...

Very cool, Joe; original webpage and great to reminisce on some exciting Akira artwork moments! Hope you're well in 2013! Krafty


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