Rob Laro, the self-made man.

Posted on: Apr 12th 2011 by Tempest

The harder we work, the luckier we get. Never has this been truer than in the case of Rob Laro. He’s been labouring away for the last 7 years to scrape together enough luck to get more items added to the Mann Co. store than anyone else to date. A record 12 items that we don’t think will be broken any time soon.

Around the time of the Shogun update we sent him some questions. He’s a busy man so we were more than happy to wait for his considered answers.

KritzKast: We’ll start out with a simple one: who are you?
Rob Laro: My name is Rob Laro, I’m 23, I work at home as a freelance illustrator/concept artist and I’m the creator of the Homewrecker, Tankbuster pack and the Shogun pack.

What are your favourite classes and maps?
I really do love all the classes, but I mostly play Soldier, Spy and Pyro depending on my mood, or death streak. As for my favourite maps, I prefer the Valve made maps, Gravelpit, Goldrush, Badwater and Dustbowl, since I feel most at home on those.

What’s your load-out and do you get a kick out of playing with your own weapons?
Well, I like to play around with load-outs and new gear, so it changes along with the TF2 updates. It is very satisfying to play with my own creations, however if the stats aren’t great, I’m not going to use a weapon for its appearance alone.

I’ve seen some of your artwork, you have an elegant cartoonish style that seems very sympathetic to working with TF2. Are you a classically trained artist?
Yes, ever since I was 16, just up until a few years ago, I had been studying traditional illustration in college and university. However, for as long as I’ve been doing art I’ve been exploring digital techniques in my own time, from programming, 3D modelling, 3D animation and digital illustration. Preparing myself so that I’m game-making ready and what have you.

That we know of, you’ve built the Soldier’s polycount weapons, the Pyro’s Homewrecker and now the Shogun items. Have you summited other items for review and what was your favourite?
The only items I’ve created for TF2 and sent off to Valve have been added to the game, so luckily no rejections yet. Although the only item I’ve sent normally through the contribution system was the Homewrecker.
My favourite item I would say, is the Homewrecker. While the model is years old and not a great example of my best work, it was one of the first weapons added to TF2, which was an incredible feeling. So the whole thing was a very memorable experience for me.

Most people are stoked to get one item into the Mann store, you’ve had more than a dozen. Are there any tips for the modellers starting out?
I’ve been asked this question countless times, most of which the person asks me “how to model?” or “how to get an item added to TF2?” Both of which are just impossible to answer.
Now it’s different for everyone, but in terms of myself, I have sacrificed my life to art. If you are unwilling to learn and dedicate an ass ton of time to art, your relationship with it is going to be an extremely short one.
The only piece of advice I can give is the obvious one, grab a 3D program or a trial and start modelling like hell and keep at it. When you come across problems, search for it. There are more than enough resources out there on the internet to help you along your way.

What about the guys who’ve been toiling away in obscurity for years? How do you get Valve to notice you?
Generally, I would say doing something different and unique would get them to spot your item among the thousands of submissions they get, although not too “special” of course, haha.
From then, your best bet is to submit as much as you can and make it the best you can make it, then just hold tight and see what happens. That is after all, all we can do.

Have you ever seen a new weapon that wasn’t your own and thought, “Damn! I’ve been working on something like that.” Or, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I love the stuff the community churn out. I definitely get those feelings when I browse what they’re up to. One thing that always amazes me is how people manage to come up with new ideas for hats. There has just got to be some sort of breaking point, there can’t be that many more hat types left, can there??

This week we’ve seen the most expensive actual money trade so far. $2200 for a Burning Kabuto. How do you feel about item trading?
While I find it to be a rather bizarre alternative universe, I like to hoard items myself. It’s rather compelling to see a huge list of items that are difficult to acquire and barter yourself some new items for your collection. I have a 38 refined metal frame around my 12 self-made items. Why? I really don’t know.

Had you tried making models before the opportunity with Valve came up or is TF2 your first love?
In terms of mods and skins, TF2 is my first love. There really isn’t any better game to contribute to.

Do you take your inspiration from things you see, do you sit at your breakfast table gluing eggboxes together to make shapes or do your designs have no real form before you make it?
Well, I like to base everything I create on some sort of real world reference, since I don’t really trust myself to come up with something from absolutely squat. I find the interpretation and development of an idea to be most intriguing personally, nothing better than something you can relate to, with a twist. Although, working with eggboxes is a great starting point too, mind you.

When designing an item, Where do you start? With a name, a look, a theme?
I start with Google image to be honest. I just plug in some words related to what I want to do and see where it goes from there. I save anything that catches my eye and as soon as I have some sort of theme going on, I start making some concepts, piecing an item together from the reference I’ve collected.
I like to shift a majority of the work to the 2D side of an item, establishing as much as I can in the concept, leaving less time having to wing it in the 3D viewport. Most of the ideas I come up with never get past the concept stage though. If you’re not feeling it, not much point beating that dead horse.

What tools/software do you use to model?
I use Maya 2011 for modelling and Photoshop CS5E for the texturing and general image making.

Do you work in CG modelling or considered it as a full blown career path?
I work at home as a freelance illustrator/concept artist, so the modelling is mostly a “hobby” of mine, and so far it hasn’t been a requirement for me to make ends meet. However these days, I’ve been doing an awful lot more concept art and 3D for there to be time to do any illustration, so my job title may just change in the near future.

As I understand it Sega commissioned you to design the Shogun items. That must have been a surreal conversation. How did they come to be asking you?
With Sega having enjoyed the packs from the Polycount update, they wanted one of the winners to create a huge series of promotional items for Shogun 2. So they sent out a bunch of emails to the five winners of the Polycount contest. Apparently, I was the only one that wanted to do it, so it was just pure luck that I landed the job.
I guess my naive enthusiasm carried me though. “So, we are doing a tie-in with TF2 and we were wondering if you…” – “I’LL DO IT, WHERE DO I SIGN”.

Did Sega pay you a one-off commissioning fee or do you take your payment from the Mann Co. sales?
I created the items for Sega free of charge, assured that I would receive the standard contributor cut, 25% of the sales of the Shogun items in the Mann Co. store.

You must have made a mint with the 25% from the Mann Co. store. What are you ploughing your money in to?
Since forever it’s been a huge aim of mine to create my own game. Thankfully, the money I have received from my TF2 ventures have enabled it to be financially secure, allowing me to focus on getting a game done and out there. I couldn’t be more excited to see where its going to go from here. Project “Odonata” is the name, keep an eye out for it on my blog. 😉

Where can people find you and your work?
People can check on what I’m up to and my general activity through my blog, pardon the nekkid ladies! –


All of us at KritzKast would like to thank Rob for finding the time to answer these questions. We wish him the best of luck with his indy game and hope to see him in game soon. So long as there’s TF2 there will be KritzKast.


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