During a trip to Tokyo in 2007, Berlin-based art curator Stefan Riekeles spent time with local anime artists in their studios, where he stumbled upon thousands of landscape illustrations stashed away in cardboard boxes.

Riekeles was immediately drawn to the intricate sketches revealing ultra-modern high-rises and tech-dominated megacities, some of which make up the fabric of famous anime films. “First I was impressed by the amount of work that is necessary to produce a few seconds of animated films. Then I was astonished by the quality of the drawings,” Riekeles said in a statement.

Convinced that the illustrations should be celebrated in their own right, he set out to put together an exhibition shining a spotlight on them. After travelling to London and Berlin, the show has finally arrived in Sydney’s Chippendale.

It features works from renowned sci-fi anime films including Patlabor (1989), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Metropolis (2001) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), as well as the $110USD million 2017 film Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson.

Initially, Riekeles had a difficult time persuading art director Hiromasa Ogura (Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell) to put his creations on public display. “When I approached him with the idea to present these [background] illustrations in an exhibition, he was reluctant at first. He said that these works are only by-products and that the only real artwork is the final movie. It took us quite a while and several late-night meetings in bars to convince him that his works would also work on the wall of a museum,” says Riekeles.

It comes as no surprise then Riekeles’s favourite piece from the collection is Ogura’s Background illustration for Ghost in the Shell, cut 477.

“[The piece] shows clearly the ambivalent status of these illustrations. On the one hand these are paintings, on the other they are set decoration, made for the animation camera. The background illustrations depict urban environments in a way that appeals to the eye of the camera first. From the perspective of painting I really admire how the artist excavates the architectonic structure from the plain blue areas,” he says.

Anime Architecture will run from June 1 to August 11 at The Japan Foundation Gallery in Chippendale. Free entry. No bookings are required.