“It wouldn’t surprise me if thumbnail images on social media start moving soon,” says the Spanish-born, Berlin-based illustrator Raúl Soria, whose charming GIFs and moving illustrations look like they’ve been hand-painted on thick card stock and should be adorning the background of a middle school play. The way that elements of Soria’s illustrations slides side-to-side and cascade up and down reminds me of how homespun theater backdrops are gently set into motion by pulley mechanisms, like wooden waves lapping in a children’s rendition of Treasure Island.
In a digital world, where moving image can add dynamic texture to editorial content in a way that it never could in static print, Soria’s illustrated GIFs are in high demand, and have been featured on the websites of Mercedes-Benz Next, De Correspondent, and Universal Music. He’s knows that moving illustration will become even more popular in the next few years, too. “It’s already happening, the last two editorial jobs I’ve been offered included GIFs.”
Soria first started playing around with the genre a few years ago, when he discovered the Photoshop timeline tool. “I was making a lot of stupid memes for fooling around on Twitter, and started animating some of them,” he says. “Then I applied the technique to some of my illustrations, just for fun at first, then for self-promotion, and now I’m happily making money from them as well.”
The evolution Soria describes is the same for many other contemporary illustrators, whose online portfolios are steadily featuring more shapes that shake. Other image makers embracing motion design and integrating it into their practice are Thoka Maer, Stephen Vuillemin, Céclie Dormeau, and the great Christoph Niemann.
“There’s something that always happens to me when I’m working on static illustrations,” explains Soria. “I can’t help imagining some of the single elements moving. If I draw a plane, it might be birds or clouds. If I draw a face, I see its eyes blinking.”
It makes sense that illustration would become more active and fluid on digital platforms. After all, why illustrate for online the same way you would for print? The Guardian’s 2015 interactive extract of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman—wistfully illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole—has been just one mesmerizing example of the way that moving editorial illustration could shape new ways of storytelling online.