Interview with Karolin Gu

It’s such a privilege to be able to do illustration and motion design as my job. I’m very grateful to be in this position and I encourage everyone who’s curious about the creative industry to jump ahead and give it a go!

Karolin Gu is a motion designer and illustrator at the production agency House of Radon in Stockholm, Sweden. She is also the illustrator behind The Tiny Monsters, an instagram feed celebrating Pokemon. Karolin creates GIFs featuring charming creatures, monsters, and worlds with a fantasy spin. If you would like to learn more about Karolin, she has done some excellent interviews with Wuka and Inverse. Karlolin shares her thoughts about the intersection of motion design and illustration which you can read below.

These days there are so many overlapping terms we can use to identify ourselves with. You describe yourself as a motion designer and an illustrator. What do these terms mean to you? How do you feel they are perceived by your clients and peers?

Titles are in general quite confusing. To be honest, I don’t believe in titles since we all wear different ones depending on the situation. If we focus solely on my profession, I mainly work as a motion designer at House of Radon, but sometimes I hop into design and do illustration work. I’ve also done some editing and basic sound design. Does that make me an editor or a crappy sound designer? And let’s not forget all niches in animation. Titles are a way to point out the direction of what you do. Your work is what describes who you are and what you are capable of.

How did you get started as an illustrator and motion designer? Did you learn both skills at the same time or did one come first?

As most of us in this industry, I started out with a pen, paper and a massive grin on my face. I’ve always loved to draw, but it wasn’t until high school that I realised that being an illustrator could be a job. So I decided to give a shot and started at Hyper Island armed with basic Photoshop skills and a burning curiosity of the creative industry. That was when I first learned the term ‘motion design’ and it all made sense. I can make my illustrations move, and get paid for it? Heck yeah, that’s awesome! After spending many late nights and weekends researching, learning and discovering about motion design, I got more and more hooked. And boom, here I am. 

The piece I remember most of yours is from your project “Travel Cravings,” featuring a small figure standing next to a massive tree-creature. The motion is very subtle and contributes to a quiet, ethereal mood. Can you talk a little bit about your personal animation style? What do you think about when you design an image for motion?

Happy to hear that it made such an impact on you. When I work on a piece I find myself seeing it moving, even when it’s supposed to be a still. I remember reading a quote saying something like “Always have something move. Always.” It’s a mantra I want to follow when it comes to animation. I try to keep each frame moving, even if it’s a calm scene. Having small and subtle details can bring a basic scene to life. It’s all about the little things. 

Many of the motion illustrators who I follow are solo-artists working in the freelance world, while you have experience at Wonderland and now House of Radon. As an illustrator, what is it like working on a team? What do you find similar and different to when you work alone? 

I mainly do motion design at House of Radon while I work on my illustrations on the side. I like the combination because I can keep each world separated but at the same time drawing inspiration from one to the other. Since we have a dedicated design team at work, I can focus on making the animation as smooth and great as possible. When I work alone, I can put all my effort into illustration as I haven’t been able to flex my illustration muscles the whole day! It’s a great balance and I can stay motivated and keep improving myself.

What tools do you use to create your animated work? Is there any technology that you are experimenting with or eager to try out?

After Effects and Photoshop all the way! I’m currently getting familiar with Procreate as well, loving it so far! As for the 3D world, I’ve touched the Cinema4D waters a couple of times, but I’m not quite there yet. One day I’ll make the big dive. 

Are there any illustrators working with motion that you admire or are influenced by? What makes their work exciting to you?

Oh my, there are so many! But the first one who pops into my mind is Rafael Mayani. He’s incredibly talented at creating explosive compositions, intriguing character designs and beautiful colour palettes. You can see that he’s experienced with working with animators, as his work is full of life and personality.

Do you think motion is important to the future of illustration (and do you have any predictions for what comes next for the illustration field)? 

These days I’ve been seeing a trend that more and more illustrators moves towards motion, which is super fun! It makes sense as we’re seeing more moving illustrations in our day-to-day life, however; Illustration itself will always be requested. It will work out if you’re specialised in illustration, but if you have the curiosity and time to explore other fields, go ahead. I believe that the future will require more and more crossover between different fields such as illustration, motion design and programming. 

Thanks to Karolin Gu for taking the time to talk about illustration. Please check out her portfolio here:  and follow her on Instagram @karolin_gu.