Nam Le’s masterpiece

The Boat

Illustrated hand-drawn artwork, animation, sound, and mixed-media archive elevates the humanity of this significant historical moment.
Wins + Honours
The word ‘read’ doesn’t really do it justice. This is a comic that you experience...

The Boat is an interactive graphic novel that tells the story of 16-year-old Mai, who is sent in search of a new life alone on a boat after the fall of Saigon. Visually adapted by Matt Huynh from Nam Le’s short story of the same name, we blended hand-drawn illustrations with WebGL animations, sound by Sam Petty (Animal Kingdom, The Rover), and traditional Vietnamese music that combines to create a profoundly touching interactive narrative story. Mai’s voyage is intricately reimagined in a way that invites the audience to connect with her experience from the beginning to its tragic end.

What sets this graphic novel apart is its focus on gradually building the narrative through rich imagery and dialogue, shining an entirely new light on the personal toll of displacement.

The website’s illustration and narrative style represents the twisting and turning journey the author’s family took to eventually settle in Australia. New York-based Australian illustrator Matt Huynh’s parents also left Vietnam for Australia. This project reflects a shared history presented through a contemporary lens, creating a new space for exploring the themes of human displacement and its consequences.


Tradition and technology

The Boat is a technical first, combining hand-drawn illustration with a ThreeJS WebGL engine. Delivered as scans of the original 2D artwork, we treated them as 3D objects, directed animation scenarios and rendered every frame with motion utilising our custom Javascript framework. Effortlessly it lays out the page akin to a comic, complete with frames and voice bubbles, but allows for explosive moments of action and sound. Honouring the hand-rendered origins of the work, we captured illustrator Matt Huyhn’s handwriting across multiple styles and meticulously crafted it into a series of custom fonts. Sam Petty’s epic soundscape is layered into the story with our in-house multichannel sound engine, responding to the user’s scrolling, actions, and on-screen animation.

A lot of work went into thinking about what the audience experience would be... but there was no real point of comparison out there.
Matt Huynh

3 million views later

For SBS, The Boat is their most successful interactive, and across many metrics, it outstrips television and streaming viewership. The project shows an audience appetite for new forms and unlikely storytelling.

  • SBS
Industry Recognition
  • United Nations Association of Australia
    • Media Peace Award (Best Online)
  • Walkley Awards
    • Multimedia Storytelling
  • FWA
    • Site of the Day
  • Awwwards
    • Site of the Day
  • The Webby Awards
    • Honoree (Best Visual Design – Best Use of Video or Moving Image)
    • Honoree (Best Visual Design – Function)
    • Honoree (Online Video – Documentary – Individual)
  • SXSW
    • Finalist (Visual Media Experience)
  • Production
    • Creative Direction, Design, Motion Graphics, Typeface Design
  • Development
    • ThreeJS, WebGL GLSL, Javascript
  • Nam Le
    • Author
  • Matty Huynh
    • Adaption and Illustration
  • Sam Petty
    • Sound Design
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