The Boat



The Boat


Nam Le
Matt Huynh


“I didn’t expect to like this one, but it had me from the first rock of the boat.” —juror Drew Ungvarsky

“Parallax often has no great reason for its existence, but in this case, The Boat takes parallax to a new level, ensuring every single component is completely transformed to simulate an actual boat-like experience. Reading text at an angle as it sways back and forth becomes appropriate when simulating a boat ride during a treacherous storm.” —juror Megan Meeker

Overview: Forty years after the fall of Saigon, SBS Australia presents The Boat, an interactive graphic novel adaptation. Through the story of sixteen-year-old Mai, whose parents make the decision to send her alone on a boat, this project explores the political and historical narratives that shaped the global Vietnamese diaspora. As readers scroll down the site, they become more deeply immersed in Mai’s experience. Thunderous sounds mimic stormy waters. Shaking animation simulates devastating waves. Raw illustrations express a refugee experience, which, 40 years later, remains undiluted in its significance.

•Artist Matt Huynh completed thumb drawings for the entire short story—49 pages of printed text.
•The project includes one video, eleven photos, 59 animated sequences and 222 static illustrations.
•The site’s creators used Photoshop, Illustrator, Glyphs, After Effects and Pro Tools software and languages including JavaScript, HTML and GLSL.

Comments by Kylie Boltin and Matt Smith:
Was the project part of a larger promotional campaign? “Not initially, but we worked across the network, with our colleagues in SBS Radio and SBS News, to create a slate of content that acknowledges the important anniversary of 40 years since the fall of Saigon. As Australia’s multicultural broadcaster, we prioritize stories of social cohesion that help us understand our past, present and future. The Boat, although a fiction, represents a foundational narrative for the Vietnamese-Australian diaspora. It also offers a lens through which to explore contemporary issues of asylum seekers and refugees.”

What were the project’s core features? “The Boat is a confluence of cutting-edge web technology and ancient technique, where ink illustrations inspired by Japanese sumi-e meet WebGL animation and interaction. A year into production, illustrator Matt Huynh handcrafted more than 200 illustrations that capture the people, events and landscape of war-era Vietnam. In turn, SBS’s multimedia team meticulously animated and developed a site that initially presents as a conventional long scroller, but quickly surprises with immersive events tied to the story, branching out into narrative paths and an emergent web audio soundscape scored by American Film Institute Award–winning sound designer Sam Petty. Archival photography and video are seamlessly layered into the space, underlining the realities faced by Vietnamese refugees.”

Are there any other technical features you’d like to call attention to? “Media is streamed dynamically into the site, adapting to the user’s reading speed and creating incredibly fast load times in contrast to the scale of content available. The full experience is spectacular on desktops, but it’s also available on iPad and Android tablets, where the unique abilities of these devices are harnessed, going so far as to incorporate ‘rumbling’ on Android tablets as the waves of the ocean crash against the boat and its inhabitants. The reading experience is complemented by an auto-scroll feature that adapts to the density of on-screen content at any time.”

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©Nam Le & Matt Huynh