In early 2020, a CG rendering of Kaneda’s motorcycle from the 1988 cult anime film Akira showed up on Behance. Its creator was James Qiu, a self-taught CG artist based in Shanghai who spends his days developing art for smartphone and console racing games.
There have been many renderings of Kaneda’s iconic motorcycle over the years, and even some real-world custom attempts to reproduce the bike. What made Qiu’s rendition so different was that for the first time, it actually looked like something we could see roll off the production line.
Using a Ducati Diavel as the base model for this bike, Qiu used CG software Maya, V-Ray, Nuke, and Unreal Engine 4 to build it virtually in his spare time between work; he used Photoshop for the finishing details that brought his creation to life.
Eccles is co-founder and design director of Untitled Motorcycles, an Anglo-American motorcycle company that designs and builds custom vehicles for individual clients as well as for factory brands like Ducati, Triumph, Moto Guzzi, and Yamaha. His most recent project, the Zero XP, is an electric motorcycle developed in partnership with Zero Motorcycles. He was also heavily influenced by Akira.
“Akira was hugely influential. It was my introduction to manga, which sparked a lifelong interest in Japanese animation (Ghost in the Shell, and the such). Kaneda’s motorcycle was definitely the most iconic and memorable. It’s sobering to realize that both Akira and Blade Runner are set in dystopian 2019.”
After watching the movie, I was so fascinated I just wanted to take that motorcycle and use CG to restore it back to its original shape...
When asked about James Qiu’s rendering, Eccles was impressed with the retro-modern vibe Qiu was able to accomplish. “The details like heat bloom and road rash add to the realism. Recreations of the Akira bike are pretty common, but James’ reinterpretation really stands out. He’s done a great job of updating the late ’80s design, evoking the spirit of the original but without directly mimicking it.
“When you start really interrogating the design, there are some challenges,” says Eccles of the feasibility to build something like this. “The most obvious is the riding position combined with the fork rake, which would seriously compromise the handling. The weight of the proposed front-hub-mounted electric motors would only exacerbate the motorcycle’s unresponsiveness. Dan Gurney famously tried the recumbent seating position in his 2002 Alligator oddity, and Suzuki proposed the G-Strider in 2003. The most recent attempt, Honda’s 2014 NM4 Vultus, was coincidentally used as the basis of a futuristic motorcycle for the recent Ghost in the Shell movie.”
Despite the challenges presented, Eccles says he’d be down to take on the challenge of an Akira-inspired project. “It would be an interesting challenge to update and modernize the 35-year-old design. I’d propose ditching the recumbent riding position. A drag-bike layout would retain the original long-and-low proportions and an interesting Hossack front end would solve the handling issues. I’d abandon the proposed gasoline-driven rear wheel with electric-driven front wheel and focus solely on electric. A modern electric powertrain is clean, torquey, electronically tunable, and belongs in a fictional/real 2019 motorcycle.”
We’re ready when you are, James and Hugo. Come find us in Neo-Tokyo when you need a test pilot.