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August 10, 2011
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I have been venturing more into the Japanese indies scene of late, and I found a nice little gem in Mamyukka. This group consists of okka, the composer; Mameko; the vocalist, and 未羽, the illustrator (sorry I don't know how to read the Kanji). Mameko is not exactly the main vocalist; she is featured in all of the CDs, yes, but she is not always the main. Anyway, they are rather new, so they have very few songs, but I like the quirky and fun nature of the songs. Their website speaks for themselves. While I was on holiday, I was taking the train a lot; you know, those above-ground types which you sit in for 2 hours to reach your destination. All the while, I was listening to Mamyukka's Tentai Catalogue (天体カタログ). It was so fitting for the occasion. The artwork and the songs inspired this wallpaper, a tribute to my favourite world in Kingdom Hearts, Traverse Town. Do have a look at their official Tentai Catalogue website, maybe check out the background image and give the song samples a listen.

(18/08 Correction: 未羽 (Miu) is the lyricist, not the illustrator. However, she does the design for the CD, based off someone else's illustrations. Sorry for the mistake. I could have, and should have, run a Google translate to find out, but I am getting lazy...)

I wanted a wall in a similar design as Tentai Catalogue's images, and I decided that Kingdom Hearts fit the bill. Then, I thought that Traverse Town would be a good setting for it, since it is also night time there and it has this homey feel that fits Tentai Catalogue's artwork. I decided to use KH's manga images to better suit the feel, and I set about designing the wallpaper. In this case, I really put a lot of work into preparation and I'm glad I did; it made life a lot easier later on. I would highly advise any newbies who may be reading this to seriously put time into thinking about how the whole wall is going to look, the positioning of objects, the lighting, etc etc. Usually, I just form a vague image of the final and hope that everything falls together towards the end; it never does. So well, I have learnt my lesson. You may see my reference here.

Why Traverse Town? In a recent Famitsu survey, Traverse Town was not even near the top. I cannot agree with the results of the survey though…how can someone like Hollow Bastion when it was menacing and downright scary? Sora lost his Keyblade! So…Traverse Town remains home to me. It was where the accessory and item shops, as well as the Gummi workshop, were located. Hundred Acre Wood was there too. That meant that we had to be constantly going back, which made Traverse Town seem even more like home.

(The outsourcing of the Moogle shops was so…..erm…convenient, but it made Sora essentially "homeless" in KH2. And, I know the real home is Destiny Island, but unless one levels up to Lv99, normally the player wouldn't spend more than 3 hours there)

Traverse Town has this very nostalgic feel, and there were so many interesting elements to it that I loved. Running on the roofs of the Second District, fighting those darn little colourful Rhapsodies, bashing the clock in the hotel, hanging on the banner line in the Alleyway, jumping across the platforms to Merlin's place, going to Hundred Acre Wood, putting out the candles at the restaurant (I always tried to do it with the Keyblade, rather than using Blizzard), posting postcards, jumping off the crates to bash the fan, checking out the Dalmatian puppies….

(My elder sister was always suspicious of Leon's overwhelming concern for the puppies. She hypothesized that when we got back all 99, he'd rip off his wig and snarl, "Bring me the puppies!")

To me, everything just fit so well for Traverse Town. The feel of the first KH, which featured a very simple yet charming story, the beautiful music of Shimomura Youko, the pebbled floor of the First District, the "blue" feel of other areas, the numerous ledges to jump on and explore…it was the best world for me. I can't believe it does not even register a blip on other fans' radar, considering that they always cite events like "Sora stabs himself to save Kairi" as reasons as to why they like certain worlds. Well, Traverse Town was the beginning! It was where Sora met Donald and Goofy, the two team members that I'd never switch out, no matter how useless they can be sometimes.

(In Deep Jungle, in the tent, if you angle it properly, Goofy can easily block the exit. I got Sora running uselessly into Goofy and he wouldn't budge a tiny bit)

Whoops, I've waxed lyrical for too long. Now, about the wallpaper, I decided to go into conserving layer mode. Usually, I use vectors to define the outline and base colours, followed by a set of vector shades and a set of pixel shades. This time, I chose to do away with vector shades. When I did that, I found out that vector shades were usually redundant unless one wanted an easy way to block in definite shapes. Pixel shades alone are able to do the trick as well, if not better. I also fell into a sort of pattern. It goes like this:

Dark shades
1) Medium (Colour burn)
2) Dark (Linear burn)
3) Shadows (Multiply)

Light shades
1) Light (Colour dodge)
2) Lighter (Linear dodge)
3) Screen (on…screen mode, obviously)
4) Big light source (soft light)

I would change layer styles or add more layers whenever I see fit. After I was done with each object, I would move the layers to another PSD file, then merge the object layers in the original PSD file, and apply a Gaussian Blur of 0.2px. This helps remove jaggies slightly and also makes the objects easier on the eye. Ultimately, to remove jaggies, one has to decrease the size of the objects, which I always leave to the last, last bit. Something new which I did here was the "screen" layer. It is actually a tiny little lining of light along certain edges, which, while barely visible, helps to bring emphasis on these areas. You can see an unevenly done bit on Donald's hat, which I am too lazy to correct (oops).

Sora had the clearest reference, so apart from his numerous chains and zips, he was still manageable. Donald had few colours, so that made him manageable as well. Goofy was the toughest, as his reference was blurry and he had a lot of colours. I referenced not only the coloured manga images, but also the official Tetsuya Nomura 2D artwork and the CG artwork. I used the manga images to get a feel of the style, while the 2D artwork was used to get base colours, and the CG artwork was used to confirm them. Well, after much observation, I conclude that Mr. Nomura has a weird obsession with zips. Donald is full of them, believe me. But, I had to have Donald and Goofy, because they are THE ideal teammates. I don't care how powerful the others are, it's Donald and Goofy for me.

Since I found such a great picture of Donald and the moogle, I decided to add in the moogle as well. Moogles are synonymous with shops in KH, after all. And, there's one in Traverse Town. After finding a nice picture of Pluto, I decided to put him there as well, because Pluto was the one who found Sora in Traverse Town after all.

I also used official Traverse Town artwork to draw in the lamp post and the mailbox. I didn't have a good angle though; the official artwork was of a bird's eye view. I just imagined how it would look like from the front and drew it. As such, you can see that the lamp post looks a little funny, especially the hand above "South". I used a font similar to what I saw on the artwork…it is called HP PSG, I believe it is a HP-computer font? Now you know which brand of computer I am using ;P

I just had to add in the mailbox. It holds such significance for me. I remember it so fondly, for when I gave up trying to defeat Leon, I stood atop its hat and jumped up and down, shouting taunts at the screen.

(I stopped the moment Leon's fire hit Sora though)

The mailbox is one of the most memorable symbols of Traverse Town. It served as my "vantage point" for a good look around the First District. From the tongue that "sucks" in your postcards to its slanted form, it embodied quirkiness, which was what Traverse Town was about. An odd town where people who have lost their worlds end up in. I actually had to boot up my DS to get a good view of the mailbox in Re:Coded, as I did not have a good reference for it. I was rather tempted to load up my PS2, but I have a feeling that my PS2 isn't working anymore.

(It's modified and had been rather buggy of late, almost hanging in the ending of KH2 as Sora and Riku walked into the light, despite the fact that my KH2 is original. I swear, if it had really hanged, I would have used my controller to smash the darn machine)

I kept the bench from the Tentai Catalogue artwork. I remember using benches in the Second District to jump up on the corridors along the side, in an attempt to avoid the Guard Armour, so I had to have a bench. I drew the train stop with a roof that would look like Traverse Town buildings' quirky uneven roofs. Well, I think I drew them too uneven…looks like the contractor had no QC or something. I also redid the Traverse Town logo as the train stop sign, but I omitted the moon on the left as it was floating eerily and I could not think of a way to make it "join" with the main sign. You may notice some weird black dots on the sign though; it's because I did it with outlines, but due to the numerous outer glows I used, most of the outlines are not visible.

Traverse Town's moon is a crescent, so I did that, with some clouds as texture. For the background buildings, I again referenced Traverse Town official artwork. I imagined how the buildings would look like from the front and drew them. The building behind Sora is the "Jewelry" shop building, anyway. I wanted the sky to look more colourful, so instead of using shades of blue, I used a blue base, but with multi-coloured gradients set on different layer styles to give a slight tinge of colour. There are 2 cloud textures; one is red, the other is blue.

Unfortunately, I could not do stars. No matter how hard I tried…I used Greg Martin's star field tutorial, and I erased and cloned and erased and cloned, but to no avail. Well…it was not as if I had no backup plan; it was just that I really wanted to do all of the stuff myself, and that includes drawing in the wood grain. So anyway, I used LadyVictoire's brushes. Kinda disappointed that I couldn't do it still.

Anyway, while I am largely satisfied with the result, I'd say that there are still some major flaws. That would be lighting and shadow direction. While I did plan for this, about 80% through the wall, I realized that I had gotten it wrong, and by then it was too late. So I just did the best I could. I also did not know which direction the shadows would be facing, whether Sora's shadow would be projected onto the bench, where the train stop's shadows would be….so I just did whichever looked presentable. I noticed that shadows were not as blurry as I initially thought them to be, so I smudged along the edges to refine them, which gave the bench shadow a nice look. But then again, as I added in Sora's and Donald's shadows, I realized that I had not left enough space in between them and the bench, and it was too late to change it, so I just did whatever I could.

Hmmm this entry was a little long. Makes me feel nostalgic though. I remember spending so many hours practising Ars Arcanum, Strike Raid and Sonic Blade in Merlin's place, preparing for the Sephiroth battle. Well, I guess the effort paid off…Strike Raid saved my life. Now, looking at the snazzy new battle system of Birth by Sleep and Re:Coded, this serves as a reminder of KH's humble roots and how much it has evolved over the years. Despite that, Traverse Town still remains very special to me. I can't wait to see it in Dream Drop Distance!

Update: I forgot my layer statistics!

References: 13
Sora:   86
Donald: 64
Goofy: 106
Moogle: 36
Pluto: 30
Lamp Post: 45
Mailbox: 43
Bench: 27
Train Stop: 38
Traverse Town Sign: 25
Ground: 20
Side Rod: 6
Background Elements: 44

Total Working Layers: 570
Working layers refers to layers which are visible. So, for example, if I have a vector layer, and I duplicate it to rasterise it (so that I can use Gaussian blur), and my original vector layer is hidden, the layer count is 1. Yep :)
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