The Lost Thing: A Short Animated Film

OSCAR winner - best short animated film at the 83rd Academy Awards

From 2002 to 2010 I've worked as part of a small team on a short animated film adaptation of THE LOST THING, produced by Passion Pictures Australia with financing from both Screen Australia and Passion Pictures. The film is 15 minutes long, using CGI (computer generated imagery) with 2D handpainted elements, and was completed in April 2010, and has been screened at various film festivals, with a DVD release by Madman in late 2010. More details can be found at  Our film is also available for download / purchase in the US via iTunes.

I've been involved in this project as a director, writer, designer and artist, working with a core team of four other creators in a Melbourne-based studio (one reason for my relocation to this city in 2007). It has been a long an complex project, and a great opportunity to learn about the differences between book illustration and animated film. My background as a painter means that I’m more accustomed to working with still, silent pictures that allow a viewer plenty of time to contemplate individual compositions. Animation is a very different medium, where questions of time and pace are much more critical, not to mention layers of sound and music.

In re-creating the story from the ground up, we've elaborated some aspects of the 'Lost thing universe' which could not be entirely expressed within the confines of the original 32-page book. In fact, I always saw the story in my imagination as a short film or theatrical piece, where the book presents us with a set of stills from some larger production. The key charatcer, a faceless creature, has in inherently animated personality which a painting struggles to convey - and finds it's full expression in the medium of film.

The vast majority of time has been invested in the careful building, texturing and lighting of digitial elements to create a unique aesthetic that avoids the artificiality of CG objects; almost every surface is essentially hand-painted using non-digital materials: acrylic paint, pencil, oils and collage.

For a fairly comprehensive description the animation process of our key team-members, Tom Bryant and Leo Baker, check out this article from Digital Media World. Also visit Tom Byrant at his website, Interference Pattern, and Leo Baker at the aptly named Turbo Radness. For a great short doco on the sound design of the film, featuring John Kassab, Adrian Medhurst and Doron Kipen, visit

A couple of extensive audio interviews in the lead-up to the Academy Awards can be heard here: a conversation with fxguide, and another with Richard Arnold.

Other key Credits: Sophie Byrne (producer), Andrew Ruhemann (co-director), Tim Minchin (voice), Michael Yezerski (composer), John Kassab (sound design), Adrian Medhurst (foley), Doron Kipen, Music & Effects (mix), Digital Pictures (post production), Steve Evans (additional lighting), Screen Australia, Passion Pictures Australia and Passion Pictures UK.

For more information and images - including The Lost Thing Trailer - please visit the official Lost Thing website, or contact Sophie Bryne at Passion Pictures Australia:

Since it's release at various film festivals and as a DVD distributed by Madman Entertainment, The Lost Thing has been fortunate to win many awards, including:

AFI award, Australian Film Industry Award.

Annecy Crystal, Annecy Film Festival, France.

Best Short Film, Melbourne international Film Festival.

Best Australian Film at Flickerfest short film festival, Sydney.

Yoram Gross Animation Award, Sydney International Film Festival.

The Lost Thing

Character sketches for some of the citizens of the city who are part of the landscape; either technicians or office workers. Pencil, A3.

A drawing of some non-human characters from 'Utopia', the land of lost things: 'Iron Lung' and 'Incubator', also known as 'Proud Parents'. Pencil, A3

Drawings of 'facial targets' for rigging a digital model of the main character 'The Boy' - how high eyebrows can go, the mouth open and so on. Pencil, A4.

Models of some incidental human characters, courtesy of Passion Pictures Australia/PPUK, modelled and textured by Tom Bryant. Textures have been added using high-resolution scans of hand-painted surfaces, fabric and rusted metal.

A sketch of the interior of 'Pete's Place'. Coloured pencil on paper, A3.

Pete's Place as a textured digital model, an empty stage waiting for characters. The use of bright colour against dull backdrops is a recurring aesthetic of the file, and lighting is a crucial element.

Scenes from an early animation test, where the boy feeds The Lost Thing in his back shed.

Feeding time with a box of old Christmas Decorations: another early test for lighting.

An exterior view of the back shed, illuminated by the Lost Thing's happiness.

'Cage Bird and Obstetrician', pencil A4.

'Light Chicken' - trying to befriend a post box. Pencil, A4

'Sleeper and Story-rabbit' Pencil, A4

'Best friends - bulb and wingnut' Pencil, A4.

Another riveting day at the information office...

Troubles at the Federal Department of Odds and Ends. All images created by Tom Bryant (modelling, texture and lighting), Leo Baker (composition and animation) and Steve Evans (additional lighting).

Searching the empty city; the use of splitscreen emulates the original compositional ideas of the book.

The city environment is a combination of hand-painted and digitally created elements blended seamlessly together.

Finished scene from 'Utopia', the otherwise nameless land of lost things, each with their own particular personality.

...more inhabitants of Utopia.

Saying goodbye at the 'door' to Utopia.

A moment of nostalgia on the way home from work.

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