Exploring character: the boy

In the picture book, the boy character is generally viewed at a distance.

However, the animation form requires a more intimate connection to character, with a range of different shots that bring the viewer closer to the character.

In responding to this different storytelling form, Tan had to provide more visual information about this character.

For instance, he designed a range of facial expressions, gestures and stances for the digital effects and animation team to use when creating the character.


Look at the following images. One has been taken directly from the book and the other is a character drawing made as part of the pre-production process.

An image from the book of the boy looking down on the beach. The Lost Thing is sitting in the sand, apparently unnoticed by the other beachgoers

© Passion Pictures Australia

A sketch of the boy from the pre-production stage, noting his backpack, baggy clothes, thin limbs and other visual aspects.

© Passion Pictures Australia

Describe the differences in the portrayal of the boy.

How do these differences affect your understanding of the character of the boy?

How do these differences change your response to the character?


In describing the process of creating characters for the screen, Shaun Tan suggests that the relationship created between the viewers and the characters in the story has an intimacy that is not part of the experience of reading the book.

What do you think he means? Explain using examples from the book and the film.


While Shaun Tan worked with the animator and the CG artist to create more developed characters for The Lost Thing, he was also aware of the dangers of trying to make the characters look too real. If an animation or an image looks too similar to the real thing it can be quite unsettling. This effect is described as entering the ‘uncanny valley’.

Find out more about the concept of the uncanny valley. From your research, can you explain why audiences often respond negatively to animated characters that look too real?


Choose an image of a minor character from a picture book.

Imagine that this character is going to be animated.

Using the sketches of the boy’s friend, Pete, as a guide, draw a character sketch to give the CG supervisor more information about the character.

Three sketches of the boy's friend Pete, annotating is stature and movements

© Passion Pictures Australia