Shaun Tan Interview

Lily Kane 2014

I got off the tram on Brunswick Street and sat down at a nearby café. Excited to meet Shaun Tan and ask him about his new animation The Lost Thing. As I saw him get out of the car I thought he looked like a really genuine guy and I just wanted to give him a hug.

Had a quick conversation than eager to get into the interview I asked him the first question:

Hey there, thank you so much for being here did you pick Tim Minchin to narrate for a reason?

Several reasons, one of the key ones being that he is a West 
Australian like myself, and shares a similar sensibility, even tone 
of voice (we also met briefly at university, during the same creative 
writing course; I had illustrated some of his student poetry for a 
small publication). He also knew the book very well and particularly 
the general attitude of the main character, and did not want to make 
the voice 'upbeat' as often happens in animation narration. He was 
also significantly well known to attract attention to our film from a 
new audience, which is often a big consideration when choosing voice 
artists.

 

That’s so cool that you went to university together. Let’s get into the second question.  When making the story of 'The Lost Thing' did you want to send a 
message to the audience?


Not really consciously. I guess all art is a kind of 'message' but 
not one that you necessarily understand clearly. If there is anything 
you want from an audience, it is for them to remain curious 
throughout the whole film, and to ask some questions afterwards, both 
about the film and the society we find ourselves living in, ie. Is 
there anything that this story reminds you of in the real world?

 

Yes I understand completely what you are saying, I never really thought about it like that. But at the end of your animation, what was the meaning you were trying to pass onto the audience when they waved goodbye to each other ?


Again, creative work is not really about passing on meanings or 
messages, and images mean different things to different people. The 
most I can say is the ending of this film feels 'right'. One 
interesting question it raises in my own mind is 'why doesn't the boy 
go through the door? I think this has something to do with the 
normal limits of most people's imagination, including my own.
 

Yes, that is very true. So you are trying to pass on different messages to all different sorts of people. I understand that. So let me know is Pete a made up character or is he based on someone you know?


Yes he is, a friend of mine from high school in Perth.
 

That’s very cool, we all had an argument wondering whether or not Pete was your friend. Why did you base it in Melbourne?


Well, it's not really based in Melbourne, it's a fictional world. But 
details such as the tram design were inspired by a trip to Melbourne 
back when I was illustrating the book: they were just the right kind 
of vehicle for the city I was forming in my imagination, very mechanised and clunky-sounding.
Oh, that’s so cool. I get that, trams are very cool. Did you want 'The Lost Thing' to tell the world something?


Not particularly, at least not itself... I'm not entirely sure what 
its motivations are, any more than I understand dogs and cats. But I 
guess his very existence is a sort of statement, or a problem 
presented to the society around it. What do you do with something 
that doesn't fit into a society? And is the problem with that thing, 
or perhaps with the society? Most people forget to ask the second 
part of that question.
 

That’s a very good answer. I think that a lot of people wouldn’t understand what to do if they found something like ‘The Lost Thing’? So did you base the story on actual events in someone's life?


A little on my own, particularly how our family acquired its first 
cat, a big orange stray tom. We often adopted animals that nobody 
else wanted, such as a budgie with a deformed beak and another cat 
that was very short-sighted.
 

Oh that’s so cool, I thought that it would be something like such. Does 'The Lost Thing' mean anything to you?


Something to do with the value of play in everyday life, even the 
value of meaningless things too. Not everything has to be 'important' 
or useful.
 

That’s very true. So how come the boy did not go through the door himself, but let the 
thing through?


Yes, I didn't read this question before, so I'm glad you are asking 
it! I think he just couldn't imagine living in such a place... it's 
just too strange, even though it is possibly a happier place. I think 
all of us have a tendency to sometimes favour the things we know over 
those that we don't, even if they are a bit dull or unpleasant.
 

I understand that completely and I also felt like that when I moved houses at the end of year 8. So for the last question and I’m sure that you anticipated this question as well.  Is there anything in the animation you would change?


Yes, lots of things! That's true of almost every work any artist 
creates. That said, I think it all works very well as it is, but the 
moment you decide something is 'finished' is not when it's complete, 
but when you run out of the time or resources to continue working on 
it.

 

That is a very good answer, and I completely agree with you. I never really get around to finishing the creative things in my life at the moment though. Thank you so much for coming out to see me and answering my questions in such depth. I appreciate your time and have been very inspired by you.