Refreshing a Custom Playmat: Persona 3 Nyx Mat

Chances to upgrade a piece of art don’t come along that often. After all by the time anyone gets around to even thinking about it your probably several hundred years dead. On the other hand Playmats are art that has to withstand the rigors of constant use, occasionally they may require a bit of a spruce up. Thats going to be the topic of today’s post as we take a look at what was involved in refreshing the Persona 3 Nyx mat..

Four years in the breaking

It’s been a while Persona 3 Nyx mat, how’ve ya been? Bearing in mind I had no idea about sealing mats at the time I think it’s done well for 4 years of use. What we are seeing is that the colours have faded slightly and there is understandable wear around the edges, both from use and living loose in a bag.

A tiny bit the worse for wear but overal you’ve done well soldier

It’s the black thats faded the most. Which is interesting since usually its the paler colours that are the first to go, must have been something to do with the fact I was using two different mediums. That aside the most striking change is the loss of that vibrant neon.

Here’s a little secret though. This image, the contrast has been pushed up to make the blacks darker and the image easier to read, the original was never quite this dark in the first place. Why push the contrast so much? Well you see at the time I didn’t exactly have all that decent a camera and it helps to offset the low resolution. That said with this refresh I’m hoping to get the mat up to this level of colour at the very least. Think of it as finally matching the original vision. First though we need to know why the mat looks as it does not after four years.

Why do things fade? Well there are two main reasons.

Reason one: Wear.

Want to see what a mat looks like without its backing? Any mat thats is, even the printed type? Heres a pic.

Best not to ask why I have the fabric of a mat and not the rubber under-layer. There was an experiment…

Yup its essentially just a bit of fabric, not a particularity thick piece of fabric either and yet one that has to withstand all the card flicks, elbows, greasy fingers, and rubbing from other objects in a bag that occur during a mat’s life. It would be like if you only had one tshirt, You wear it wash it then put it on again, over and over for four years. What happens to any images on it or the seams and edges?

Thats right Wear, Luckily unlike clothes the rubber backing of a mat keeps it from falling apart we still have to deal with wear to the image though.

Reason rwo: light.

The sun is trying to kill the colours.

Over time light breaks down the pigments, less tiny pigment particles less colour on the human eyes scale. This is more like a river carrying away the individual particles ,with less of them left behind its impossible to be as bright as before the river appeared.

On the plus side unless you leave your mat on a windowsill while your not using it light is less of an issue. Also gaming stores aren’t renowned for their sunroofs.

On this mat what we are seeing is mainly a wear issue. I can feel the fabric isn’t as thick as it used to be and there are more frayed fibres around the edges. One of the things we will be looking to do near the end of the process is to bulk the mat back up a bit.

Beyond that it’s a straight re-colour.

Well it would be but I’ve come a long way in four years, I think we can do better than that.

The reunification.

In this image I’m about halfway done with the refresh.

There are a number of things that still need fixing.

You can already see things have begun to tighten up. If I was to draw a graph showing level of detail over time there would definitely be an upward trend, I guess thats what you get with practice.

I’ve been removing as many Tangents as I could find, we’ve covered this before but to recap. Tangents are where lines meet and form shapes they shouldn’t and in doing so they confuse the viewers eye. In this image for example the way the bow, spear, and Nyx’s dress interact caused some confusion originally, at least I wasn’t happy with it at least. Theres still a bit to do to work them apart but you can see the beginnings of the refinement of each object and my atempt to move them apart..

Another thing we can do to improve readability is make sure that dark edges are followed by light areas and vice versa. There are a lot of very small details on this mat, for example the gold spikes, and we can increase the crispness of their edges without putting a black line around them if we use this technique. I’ve also changed the lighting, on the original I use a grey to shape the black clothes of the characters but if the moon is the primary light source then doing so leads to confusion, where is the light coming from to make their backs lighter than their sides? Just fixing this makes the figures feel much more a part of the rest of the image.

Finally I’ve begun darkening the edges of the image in order to create an oval of darker colour. This pool into witch we are drawn should help to keep the viewers eyes within the bounds of the image where before with all the figures at the edges it could be quite easy for the eye to wander out.

At this point I’m not sure if I want to outline the everything or not.

0.3 to 0.8

I’ve outlined the everything.

I’m not sure which I prefer this or the top image.

Had to in a way. Ceaser is all grey, at some point near the edge of a surface your going to need to go darker to create the outline and once you’ve done that then you start thinking ‘well lets just see what the guy next to him would look like’ and it’s all a bit of a snowball from there.

What I didn’t want to do however were boring lines that were all the same width, you know like I did the first time around because I didn’t have four years more experience. So keeping the Rarity mat in mind I set about outlining everything, making sure to vary the pressure of my stroke. To make doubly sure I went back and added even more thickness to certain areas I wanted it to be really obvious. Then I got an even thicker brush and drew big black lines around the characters.

But that was too much so I undid most of it.

I’m glad I did add the line-work in the end, not only does it make those areas that had lines originally more dynamic but it really helps to make the character pop.

I’ve been talking about techniques to sharpen the image for a bit now so I guess it’s past time to mention colour.

Colour me unsurprised.

In the original image the sky is something of a teal, one I no longer have access to. This turns out to be less of a problem than it seems since the moon is green after all and as I boost it back up to its neon glory I’m naturally drawn to blending out from there using greens rather than teals anyway.

I want to bring more of the blue from the dress into the left of the image as the right is a bit heavy with it so start to tint the greys with a blue shadow. Th blue Itself has held up well over the years, theres no real surprise there its what blue does. Still I want to add in some dynamism so work the dress up to a darker shade and blend out to create folds in the fabric

In the same way I want more blue on the left, the areas that were red and orange before are all now shades of one colour to draw your eye from left to right. There’s a nice curve there I think it should be used. Equally the yellows are better matched now, I really wanted to cut down a bit on the number of colours involved, less can be more after all and if it helps strengthen the overall image all the better.

I debated weather or not to add purple clouds. It would have had a nice contrast to the green but theres no taking that back, the sky isn’t really the focus anyway so had I not liked it I would have been stuck with at best very dark green clouds.

Just to add to the eeriness factor I’ve left Nyx’s face without shadows, clearly she can self illuminate somehow – perhaps she is a nightlight. I also altered the smile and reshaped the head. It wasn’t that far off before but you should have been able to see more hair on the right and now she looks like she’s enjoying herself more.

Deepen the blacks on Nyx. For obvious reasons we do the black last (hint we don’t want to be trying to put yellow over it) lets also sort out the boot on the right not sure what went wrong there but its not the same size as the one one the left even if you cant see most of it. I could go darker with the wings but as we have learned we want things in the background to not be as bright/strong.

Bring in some green shadows and highlights to tie the figures and the sky together and we are done. Not quite the same style as before but possibly closer to the original anime intent overall, especially on the humans.

Next up lets do something to keep this mat going for even longer than four years.

CFC Free.

With the colouring done its tim for detailing.

Not as in adding detail, more the polishing a car up to make it look as good as it can.

Here that involves:

Trimming any glaringly obvious frays: Being fabric we don’t want to go to crazy it might un-knot.

Painting the sides of the edges of the mat: if it’s green at the edge we don’t want to see white over the lip.

And adding an undefined number of layers of sealant.

This last point involves a spray so you will want to do this outside in calm dry weather. Here I’ve gone with a mat sealant, mat as in not gloss rather than specifically for mat’s. As I mentioned earlier I want to improve the mat’s thickness so it takes a fair few coats to bring it up to where I am happy with it. Adding the sealant helps for three reasons. First it locks in the colours, second it takes the wear before the mat itself and third a decent sealing product will have some form of UV protection or be lightfast in some way.

Basically it helps slow the process of ageing.

For art that is, I advising against any attempts to use it in any other way.

Once this is dry your done and ready to once again take to the battlegrounds.

I just wish I had a blacklight, see one of the ways I got the brightness back up was to use glow in UV colours. It woulds be nice to know if the sealing process turned them off or not.

Obviously thats a story for another time, until then remember art isn’t ever a finished thing theres always room for a refresh.

Although I’m not sure how I would feel about someone else messing with my art 100 years form now.

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