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The boy feeds the lost thing © Passion Pictures Australia and Screen Australia
  • Introducing the Film

    Part of the Shaun Tan Education Resource.


    When adapted to film, the story of The Lost Thing continues to explore a world where people have lost the ability to really see what is around them or to recognise and value something special and extraordinary. The film draws on the melancholy sense of loss accompanying the boy’s memories of the lost thing. He was the only one in his bleak and soulless world to notice the strange lost creature, and the only one who cared enough to find a place for it to belong. However, after glimpsing the magical world of lost things, the boy is left on the other side of a closed door looking towards a future where he will become like everybody else: someone who ‘stops noticing’.

    In this module: Respond  |  Reflect  |  Explore  |  Create


    1. Share your impressions of the two main characters in the film.
      • Jot down three words to describe the lost thing. Share them with the class and create a list.
      • What about the boy who tells the story? What three words best describe him as a character? Share these as a class.
      • Compare responses to these characters. What do the differences and similarities in individual responses reveal about these characters?
      • In groups, discuss other characters who appear in the film and provide a brief description of their role in the story.
    2. Describe the two worlds presented in the film.
      • Divide a page into two columns. In the first column, list all the words that you can think of to describe the everyday world and, in the second column, words that describe the lost thing’s world.
      • Describe your first impressions of the boy’s world?
      • Which aspects of the boy’s world made the strongest impression on you? Explain why.
      • Divide into groups and share your responses. Did particular scenes or images stand out for everyone, or was there a variety of responses? Explain.
      • What aspects of the world of lost things make it stand out from the boy’s world?
      • Which creature most captured your imagination? Why?
      • In the book, the world of lost things is glimpsed through a door, but in the film we enter this other world and get to see what it is like. (Notice how important the sky and open space are in this scene.) How does this affect the story as a whole?
      • Shaun Tan refers to the world of lost things as ‘Utopia’. Find out what this word means and then write a short paragraph explaining why and how this world could be described as a utopia.
    3. Focus on the opening of the animation.
      • Why have the credits been designed in the way they have?
      • How do they prepare the viewer for the story to follow?
      • Describe the music and the sound effects used and explain their effect. What do they add?
      • What is your initial impression of the boy? Explain — focus on his movements, voice and the words he uses.
    4. How does the ending of the animation make you feel?
      • Compare the ending of the film with the ending of the book.
      • How are they similar? Explain with examples.
      • Are there any major differences? Explain with examples.
      • Why do you think the filmmakers have kept some elements but changed others?
    5. In the book, the reader remains quite separate from the lost thing and the boy, whom we generally see in the distance. In the film, we are drawn into the world and connected more closely with the boy and his experience.
      • Watch the film as a class and note down some of the ways we are connected to the boy as a character and experience events from the boy’s perspective.
      • How does the voiceover connect with what we see to draw us into the story and into the boy’s point of view?
    6. For Shaun Tan a work of art is required to make us ask questions about what we already know.
      • Make a list of questions that arise from viewing The Lost Thing.
      • Do you think all of these questions have an answer? Explain.
      • The questions that arise in the film relate to the themes explored in the narrative (story).
    7. Read the following definition of theme and then divide into groups and share ideas about the themes explored in The Lost Thing. Theme: refers to ideas or issues that are beneath the surface of the story. Themes relate to concerns, beliefs, or feelings about life in general. For instance, in The Lost Thing, although they are not stated, a couple of themes might be loneliness and friendship.
      • Join together as a class and discuss the themes you have shared in your groups.
      • Focus on one of these themes and explain how it is explored in the film. As well as mentioning story elements, focus on the exploration of this theme through sound and the visual language of the film.

    The Boy and his father watch television in a CRT-illuminated living room

    © Passion Pictures Australia and Screen Australia

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    1. In the audio commentary that accompanies the DVD of The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan describes the city where the boy lives as having ‘a dead heart’.
      • What does this mean? How can a place have a dead heart?
      • Expand on your answer by focusing on a specific scene: perhaps the end of the day at the beach, the evening at home or the visit to the Federal Department of Odds and Ends.
      • With this description of the ‘everyday’ world in mind, how would you describe the world of lost things?
    2. In The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan uses symbolism to create a link between what we see on screen and our everyday lives. A writer or a filmmaker is using symbolic language when s/he uses an image that stands for a larger and more complex idea or set of ideas. In The Lost Thing the two worlds are symbolic – but so too are smaller elements of each world.
      • What do you think is being communicated in the Federal Department of Odds and Ends through the use of colour, form, sound and light?
      • What is suggested by the spreading expanse of blue sky in the world of lost things?
      • When you explore the meaning of a work like The Lost Thing, you should not expect or even want to come up with a definitive meaning. The Lost Thing is about many things and can be understood in many ways. With this in mind, write a paragraph about what you think the lost thing represents. Use evidence from the film to support your response.
    3. Shaun Tan worked as part of a creative team to turn his book into an animation. As a consequence, the book and the film share a similar look and feel. However, these two texts are also very different as they are completely different art forms.
      • As a class, make a list of the things the creators of The Lost Thing animation needed to consider when adapting the picture book for the screen.
      • Open the book at a random point in the story and then compare it to the comparable scene or sequence in the animation. Use this example to explore the decisions the animation team made about sound, timing, words and phrasing, creating 3D sets, the narrator’s voice and, perhaps most importantly, the interpretation of character (including shape, colour, movement, expressions, gestures, sound effects). You might like to break up into groups to do this exercise.
    4. Shaun Tan describes the soundscape of The Lost Thing animation as offering another dimension to the artwork, as if he was given another colour palette to use.
      • Focus on the sounds of the world of the story. How do these sounds affect your response to, and understanding of, the world?
      • What are some of the sounds that you found particularly effective or memorable?
      • Choose a 30 second segment and list all of the elements of the soundscape. (You will need to listen to it more than one once.)
      • Listen to the sounds that accompany the lost thing’s movements.
      • How do the sound effects add to what you see?
      • Does the lost thing sound the way you thought it might?
    5. In the midst of all of the complex technical decisions the team needed to make as part of the 3D animation process, they struggled to find the right person for the narrative voice-over: " was trying to find the right balance between somebody whose voice was engaging and some kind of interesting quality and at the same time to be a little bit flat."
      • Why do you think the narrator’s voice needed to balance these two qualities?
      • Why was it so important that the team should choose the right voice to tell the story?
      • Follow the words of the book as you listen to The Lost Thing. Take note of the words that have been changed and consider why.
      • Have they been changed to contribute to the narrative flow?
      • Do they connect better with the timing of the animation?
    6. In this online interview, Shaun Tan describes some of the difficulties involved in adapting his story for the screen.
      • Can you explain what he means when he says that one of the challenges for the creative team was: ‘How to tell a story about apathy without inspiring apathy.’
      • What does he suggest is the solution to this potential pitfall?
      • Give specific examples from the film of the filmmakers’ response to this challenge.

    The Boy feeds the Lost Thing

    © Passion Pictures Australia and Screen Australia

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    Mise-en-scène is an expression related to the design aspects of a film (or theatre) production. It refers to everything that appears in the frame. Key aspects of mise-en-scène include, but are not limited to, composition, sets, props, actors (or, in the case of animation, characters) and lighting.

    1. Mise-en-scène is used to tell you more about the story that is being told. For a clearer explanation and analysis of mise-en-scène, pause on a selected frame of a scene from The Lost Thing and discuss the mise-en-scène and its relationship to the narrative. Consider the following in your discussion and analysis:
      • Setting/location: where are we?
      • Framing: what is in the frame, what has been left out?
      • Where are objects placed within the frame and why?
      • Where are the characters placed within the frame and why?
    2. Mise-en-scène is important in creating mood or an atmosphere.
      • What is the mood of the scene you are focusing on? Explain.
      • Describe how this mood has been communicated in the mise-en-scène.
      • Describe the colours used. What do you think is the significance of the selected colours? How do the colours add to the story?
      • Explain how lighting is used to create meaning. Is the lighting bright, gloomy, dreary or dim? Is lighting used to create contrast? How is shadow used? (Shaun Tan has described the lighting of the animation as the ‘varnish’.)
      • Explore the design of the set (production design). Draw or list three elements of the production design that add to the mood or atmosphere conveyed in this scene. Explain.

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    Shaun Tan played a crucial role in all aspects of the animation production process and, in fact, created his own 2D animation for the Federal Department of Odds and Ends TV advertisement.

    1. Watch this advertisement and plan your own simple 2D animation. (You may like to refer to the section on animation in the Screen It resource. There are also many excellent ‘how to’ videos on Youtube.The Federal Department of Odds and Ends TV pencil sketch

      © Passion Pictures Australia

    2. When Shaun Tan is writing and illustrating his books, he works in a portrait format but, when adapting The Lost Thing to the screen, he needed to work in the wider 16 by 9 landscape format.
      • Draw, photograph or find an image in a portrait format and then ‘adapt’ it to landscape in such a way that it looks as though it is meant to be in that format. What did you need to add or subtract to achieve a satisfying result?
    3. Choose a picture book (either by Shaun Tan or a different author) and imagine you are turning it into a short film.
      • Create the storyboard for a short scene or sequence from the film.
      • What are some of the things you have to take into account when creating a moving image work? (For instance, think about sound, different shot types, movement and characterisation.)

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    Lost Thing Boy