We've all seen his skins before but never knew his name, a lone wolf perfecting his craft far away from the eye of the public. With nine officially accepted skins into CS:GO, it's fair to say he's a master of his craft.
EGO Death, or rather known for his incredible skins such as the Galil AR Chatterbox, M4A4 Magnesium, SSG 08 Bloodshot, and more, opened up to us as he discussed his entry to skins, recent work, CS2, and much more.
BLIX: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
EGO Death: My real name is Rob. I'm a pretty standard human person.
BLIX: What inspired you to become a CS:GO skin creator? Did you have any prior experience in art or design?
EGO Death: My gaming youth was in the Half-Life 1 mod scene, so modifying textures wasn't an alien concept to me. When I saw that CS:GO was accepting submissions for skins, I honestly just thought it would be a fun thing to do.
Almost all of my artistic experience was with traditional tools, photography, painting, etc. I took a few community college courses; however, It was never something that paid the bills. It's just something I loved to do.
BLIX: How would you describe your artistic style when creating CS:GO skins? Do you tend to incorporate any specific themes or elements into your designs?
EGO Death: I'm not entirely sure I have a specific style when it comes to creating weapon finishes for CS:GO. I actually kind of try to explore different ways of doing things as time goes on. However, I do have a lot of elements and themes I find myself drawn to. I really like illustrated monsters, and I really like drawing flames. Basically, it's the same stuff I was drawing when I was 12.
BLIX: Walk us through your creative process. How do you go from an idea to a finished CS:GO skin?
EGO Death: Honestly, the "creative" part of the process, or at least the initial stages of designing a finish, is usually a lot of looking and thinking... and a lot of really bad drawing. My sketching stage is actually intentionally rather messy and unpleasant because it stops me from overcommitting to an idea. It's easy to get too focused on one "clever" part of a design... and lose focus on how it looks as a whole.
I like to work "Big to small," always starting with the most general parts of a design. If the overall design of the object is unbalanced, spending 20 hours rendering out the coolest illustration won't really matter; it'll still look bad. I usually have a general idea of what I want to accomplish, but fitting the concept to the object is generally what takes me the most amount of time.
Once I have a sketch of a concept that I think works, I bring it into the game and see how it looks. If the design works, both from a first-person perspective and from the inventory view. Then, from there, it's just building up details and rendering things out. Taking promotional pictures and posting them on the workshop! I'm currently putting together some short video tutorials to cover the specifics in a little more detail.
At the moment, I use Substance Painter and Photoshop for 90% of what I do. However, there are lots of other good options for software out there.
BLIX: What is your favorite CS:GO skin that you've created, and what makes it special to you?
EGO Death: Is it among the stuff I have accepted? It would have to be the Chatterbox still. If, among all the stuff in my workshop? I'd say "The Kiss" AUG paint job for CS2. I think it's the best-illustrated thing I've done so far.
BLIX: Are there any unique or interesting stories behind some of your CS:GO skins that you'd like to share with us?
EGO Death: I made all of the "low violence" adjustments to the Skull Crusher R8 standing with a sleeping baby in a front carrier.
BLIX: Have you created skins for other games or platforms besides CS: GO? If not, do you plan to expand your creative work to other areas?
EGO Death: Other games or platforms? I don't think I understand the question. What else is there?
Counter-Strike is the only game EGO Death plays, as he has played the game for 20 years.
BLIX: Are you looking forward to implementing Easter eggs in your future work, like the R8 Skull crusher & Galil Chatterbox?
EGO Death: Oh, most certainly. Hiding little details is one of my favorite parts of making these.
BLIX: How was your experience working on CS2 skins with the new workshop tools?
EGO Death: Absolutely a pleasure. A lot of it is very much the same, so the transition was easy. But the actual fidelity we can achieve is significantly higher.
BLIX: What are the main differences between the old and new workshop tools?
EGO Death: The old tools had issues with refreshing textures properly and did not do an especially good job of showing what something would actually look like in normal gameplay. If you wanted to see your items in the actual game, you would need to replace the texture file for a skin you already owned.
With the CS2 Item workshop tools, you can just click a button... and see what you've made in-game... both in an inventory context as well as first person.
Before, you had to convert your files to VTF format; with the new tools, you can just load in your TGA's, and it does everything in the background.
Those two differences alone make it about 1000x better.
BLIX: Do you have a favorite finish style to work on?
EGO Death: Anodized Multicolored and Anodized Airbrush. Gunsmith is fun and shiny-ish, but I like their blinding highlights. I want to be able to cook an egg with the reflections coming off of my finish.
BLIX: Apart from skins, were you ever interested in making stickers and graffiti?
EGO Death: I'm very interested in making graffiti, actually! I have a bunch sketched up. I've tried to do a sticker like eight times now, and every time, I end up disliking it or second-guessing it and moving on to other projects.
BLIX: China is very strict about its laws towards blood and gore, and even Valve insists on having a censored version. Does that ever affect your choice of making a certain skin?
EGO Death: Oh, 100% I would be doing like monsters getting split in half and skins that had like blood splatter and such. But yeah, I try to design everything I make now so that it would not need to have a second version.
BLIX: How was your reaction when you had your first accepted skin in CS:GO?
EGO Death: Disbelief. I mean, I got a good reaction for the Chatterbox and all, but it still felt pretty unreal. I don't think I had really considered actually having something accepted.
BLIX: You have one of the coolest names ever; what's the story behind your name, "EGO DEATH"?
EGO Death: Honestly, I used to change my name about once a week. This was the name I was when I got the Chatterbox accepted into CSGO. So I just went with it. If Chroma had come out a week earlier, it would have been something else.
BLIX: Last year, you introduced a new style in your work with the AWP Bloodshot, AUG The Kiss, and SSG 558 The Retch. Was that your attempt to have more vibrant, colorful skins? And do you think vibrant colors are important to Valve?
EGO Death: At least part of it was that I changed the way I handled color in my projects overall. Before, I would design something to be a specific color. What I do now is design everything in black and white and color it all with gradient maps. This new approach allows me to basically try any color combination I could want rapidly and without loss of quality.
BLIX: There are 3.8 Million registered M4A4 Magnesium in the world; despite it being one of the most popular M4s, not many people recognize you. Is it because you were never interested in the spotlight?
EGO Death: That would be a pretty generous interpretation. I don't really have much in the way of branding, and I generally keep to myself. I've never done collaborations to "promote" myself. I have, however, started using social media last year. I would definitely say I'm still better at making skins than I am at marketing.
A big thank you to EGO Death for taking the time to answer these questions. Please feel free to check out his Steam workshop and follow him on his social media for future updates!