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** I am unavailable for freelance work until January 2014 **

If you'd like  to get in touch about a freelance project or just to say hi, please send me a message using the form or via twitter at @ivonnekn.

~ Ivonne




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Designer and illustrator specializing in brand identity design, web design and UI/UX design, based in Toronto via Milton.


Filtering by Category: Games

Mission 4 "City of Immigrants" is LIVE!

Ivonne Karamoy

It's that time again! The 4th installment of Mission US is LIVE!

"City of Immigrants" follows Lena Brodsky, a 14 year old Russian Jewish immigrant girl newly arrived in New York City in 1907. She is faced with the challenge of supporting herself and her family, dealing with labour issues for women in the garment industry and her increased need for independence as she outgrows adolescence.

I've been working on this project for the last year with the wonderful folks at EFS and it's been as rewarding as all the others. I am still in love with the idea of leveraging technology and games for education. It's an innovative and fun way for students to learn some difficult concepts and really delve into history and story telling. It's one thing to read about history but it's another to get a sense of what it felt like to live in that time, and Mission US gives students just that.

This particular mission is close to my heart because it takes place in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City. Firstly, I love NYC. Secondly, I love history. It's been fun to go back in time and consider the life people lived back in 1907.

As with all the other missions, we worked with a lot of historical references...

It was important to ensure the character designs were appropriate for the time, so the hair styles and clothing was important to get right.

As NYC was ripe with new immigrants, we wanted to capture the different ethnicities of the characters. In the game, Lena meets other Russians and Jews in her community, befriends an Italian girl, and meet white, Protestant Americans at her work in the garment factory.

Rosa's family are immigrants from Naples, Italy.

Rosa's family are immigrants from Naples, Italy.

James Poole encounters Lena to talk about her work at the garment factory.

James Poole encounters Lena to talk about her work at the garment factory.

The game environment was built in 3D and although our characters were designed in vector form, the combination of the two works quite well.

Each character illustration started with a character description and their storyline in the narrative of the game. Some reference material was collected for each character. Historical characters, especially, needed to be as accurate as possible to their real life counterparts. For example, this character illustration of Clara Lemlich, a leader of the massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York's garment district in 1909, was based entirely on one of the few portraits that exist of her.

Photo of Clara Lemlich

Character art of Clara Lemlich

For the fictional characters, including Lena, I took the reference material and the character description to outline a sketch of the character. Some sketches are detailed, some are less so capturing the pose of the character more than the details.

I then take my sketch and the reference materials into Illustrator and draw out the character in vector form.

To get a glimpse into my illustration process, check out this time-lapse video of the Rosa character illustration.

The character vector art is then sent to the folks at EFS to check for accuracy. Some back and forth may be required to get things right, but generally it's good to go.

For the major characters that the player encounters, a talking head was created from the vector art. For that several different expressions for the face was created and various lip states which was turned into a talking head. The different states and expressions was turned into a spritesheet which is used in the game engine for use in the dialog. This allowed us to bring the character to life using different expressions at appropriate moments in the dialog. The character talks and blinks giving it a more life like feel.

A unique character in this mission was the character of Isidor, Lena's baby nephew. He doesn't talk but he does what babies do - he doesn't sit still and he cries. So the character art was created as well as a small animation of him crying. You only ever see him carried by his mother Sonya.

Here is a shot of some of the major characters for this mission...

And some minor characters that you come across throughout the game...

I had fun creating the cast of this game. Bringing character descriptions to life and seeing them in action in the game is incredibly gratifying.

You can check out details of the game and play it at

Onto the next mission!

Rosa (Time Lapse Video)

Ivonne Karamoy

I've been busy illustrating characters for the next installment of Mission 4 of Mission US, which is set in turn-of-the-century New York during the big immigration boom. This time I recorded a few of my illustrations... This is Rosa, a young 14-year old Italian immigrant girl who our main character Lena befriends.

I start these characters with a quick pencil sketch based on some approved historical reference images.

Italian family doing homework.jpg
Lewis Hine - A group of girl workers at Greenabaum's Cannery. They range from 6 years of age up. Seaford, Delaware, 1910.jpg

I spent some time exercising my hand drawing abilities to get the hands right, as you can see from the hand sketches around the page.

The pencil sketch is where I make all my illustration decisions and what you see is basically what you get once I digitize it. I make some minor changes and decisions as I digitize it but it's pretty much just tracing and coloring at that point with illustrator, which takes a few hours. There's generally one or two rounds of minor tweaks until we get the final character art...

Mission US - "Most Significant Impact" award at G4C

Ivonne Karamoy

I'm so thrilled to share that Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey won the Most Significant Impact category at this years Games for Change. The award is honors games targeted most successfully at a specific social issue, with proven actions and/or outcomes. I've always been proud of being a part of the team at Electric Funstuff who, in partnership with Thirteen and the American Social History Project, produce the games.

Here's what people have been saying about it:

CBS News - NY Teacher Turns to Video Games to Encourage Learning

Let's Get Serious About Video Games (on

BrainPOP on the award and Mission US

Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey is the 3rd mission in the Mission US series. It puts players in the role of a Cheyenne boy, Little Fox, in 1866 as he grows up and makes decisions in reaction to the encroachment of settlers, expansion of railroads, decline of buffalo and the rise of the reservation system in the 1860s and 1870s.

It's no secret this is one of my treasured projects. Games have an ability to capture an audience (especially the young ones) and keep them engaged in a way that many things cannot. And to use this in a way that successfully educates children in an unbiased, participatory and exciting manner is a feat. I commend the game designers, historians and writers on this project for writing and designing such a diverse game that allows children to get an understanding of what history felt like at the time rather than our analyses of it after the fact. It's a pleasure designing characters for such a rich and powerful game.

We're hard at work on the next one which will be out later this year. Check out my Mission US project page for more info about this project.

Mission US - learning through gaming

Ivonne Karamoy

I've been involved with the Mission US project for a long time now and it always amazes me how amazingly innovative it is. The concept of gaming as an educational tool is still relatively new and there's few games who do it well. The strength of Mission US, in my opinion, is that it delivers educational material that can otherwise be very dry and engages kids while learning them. Not only that, they take a critical approach to history and are able to analyze it through their own lens. They can discuss their decisions and their perspectives with their classmates and they learn to do so with an open mind. No run of the game is the same, and each student makes choices that are true to their own analysis of the situation. They bring their own perspectives and approach the events in history as someone standing there at that particular time - not as an outsider looking in. They can do this all socially and collaboratively with their classmates rather than via an essay or report as is traditionally done.

Mission US launched with it's first mission, For Crown or Colony, back in 2010. But production began in 2008. It is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project is produced by WNET Thirteen and developed by Electric Funstuff. There are a variety of partners that help make this project happen with their historical and educational resources. For a complete list check out the partners page.

The game was always intended to be public so that teachers from around the country (U.S.A.) could use the material to supplement their curriculum to engage kids in a different way. The project has become a great example of how gaming could be used effectively in education.

Mission 1 log in screen.

Mission 1 log in screen.

My role with the Mission US project has changed since it's inception. But I've always enjoyed creating the characters that make this game come to life. It's a challenge to design characters based on the needs of the game and on historical references. Some of the characters that you encounter in the game are historical figures and it's imperative that they look and feel like the real person. Even the fictitious characters carry with them a historical weight in terms of their appearance, their voice and their role which enables kids to really engage with them. Collaborating with the historians at ASHP teaches me more and more about history and I'm constantly stimulated creatively and intellectually by this project. I am thankful to be a part of it.

When I first started with the project I was a young illustrator and learned my process as I went along. You can read more about my role(s) on the project here, but I'd like to really dive in and take you through my process to give you a sense of the art work that goes into a project of this magnitude and significance. It's an ongoing project and it helps for me to stop and take stock of my own processes and art work and figure out how we can better it for the next mission.

Mission 1 is where it all started and when I began to dip my toes in character design. I owe a lot of this to James Cukr, who was the Art Director for this mission and taught me a lot about illustration and how to take your sketches and turn them into digital artwork in Illustrator. He really kickstarted the visual design for this project and I continued on where he left off.

Over the years, each mission has been different than the next and the artwork has changed. For Mission 2, I lead the entire game art design, including all characters and locations. In Mission 3, we introduced 3D locations and game environments. I continued to work as the lead character designer. This third mission had more cut scenes as the storyline expanded several years. Mission 4 will be similar to Mission 3 with a mix of vector characters which I am leading and 3D game environments. This next mission will also have a UI overhaul, moving away from the generic UI that we've seen to something that matches the style of that era as the game takes place in 1907 New York City. As a result, the map pins will also have an overhaul. Stay tuned for Mission 4 to come out later this year or early next.

Mission 2 "Flight to Freedom" launches TODAY!

Ivonne Karamoy

For most of 2011 I've been working on Mission 2: "Flight to Freedom" and I'm so excited that it's finally out and just in time for Black History month in February! I'm eager to hear the reception among teachers and students. EFS has done some awesome things in this Mission in terms of game design, introducing things such as the escape map sequence and interface, side scrolling scenes, 3D animation sequences, game badges and smart word integration to communicate the issue of literacy in slave communities.

Side scrolling scenes

As a game artist I tackled some new challenges with this project. The background scenes and interactive environments that I had to create were of a larger scale to allow for side scrolling and a more immersive environment. As always, the character design and environment artwork required some thorough historical research to ensure the historical accuracy as it relates to the costume design, architectural details and objects. Where Mission 1 took place in Boston in 1770's America, Mission 2 takes place around Kentucky and Ohio in 1850's America around the time of the Fugitive Slave act. So the date required a whole new set of historical research.

The cast of Mission 2: Flight to Freedom

Mission 2 has you in the role of Lucy, a 14 year old slave girl in a hemp plantation near Lexington, Kentucky around the late 1840's - 1850's. You are acquainted with slave life on a plantation and what it meant to be a young slave. Things happen that force you to run away and you realize that running away is a huge risk and takes a lot of courage and intelligence. You have to learn who to trust and to either stay out of trouble or be part of the resistance.

Fully interactive, wide, side scrolling scenes
Interact with different characters

Mission 2 has a really exciting narrative and doesn't sugar coat life for a slave. I hope the kids take away a more thorough understanding of the complexities of slave life and the political climate of the time through this game.

My hats off to the New York teams at EFS who developed the game, THIRTEEN who produced the game in association with WNET, and our historians at ASHP for the work they've done on this mission.

Read the announcement on THIRTEEN here.