Wasp Microbial Landscape – Art Process

Our bodies are made up of the trillions of cells encoded by our unique DNA–right? Current research is diving into another rabbit hole, with suggestions that the microbes that coexist with us are just as much US, as our ‘own’ DNA encoded cells. For every one of our DNA encoded cells, 10 microbes exist. For Science News magazine’s special feature on animals’ microbiomes I created a wasp ‘composed’ of microbes. Check out SN’s reporting here, Microscopic Menagerie for more on the science and links to other artists’ great illustrations. In this blog post, you’ll find insights into the my process creating the wasp art.

wasp microbes drawing

Wasp microbiome art created for Science News magazine © N.R.Fuller.

 

wasp-sketchGetting Started on the Art: I almost always start with a sketch to confirm both composition and accuracy. In this case the wasp was a Nasonia wasp (a small parasitoid). After sketching the wasp itself, I sketched microbes onto the very front of the specimen as an example of where I was headed. Science News agreed that it was on track, but gave me some feedback like avoiding monoculture areas like I originally had in the eye.

wasp-zsphere

On the top are the underlying Zspheres used to create the model, and below is the sculpted wasp.

Even though we wanted the final style to look more hand-drawn and less computer generated, I decided to use 3d software to help me with the overall shading and the nuances of the microbial shading. My plan was to spend some time sculpting the wasp, then harness computing power to scatter the microbes, and finish up with sketched details in Photoshop. I started out using Zbrush’s zspheres to create the underlying shape of the wasp. If you’re not familiar with zspheres, they’re a fantastic way to quickly create a mesh (model) without traditional polygon modeling skills. It’s basically like stringing together beads to create your shape.

Zspheres remind me a little of the newish kid’s building toy Zoobs; essentially balls with connectors, of which any of the balls can become a joint. As I built my wasp I kept each major part separate as a Zbrush subtool so that I could easily modify the pose. Once the structure was created I sculpted the details of the wasp, using primarily a combination of the sculpting slash, inflate, and move tool. Since I knew that I’d be adding the microbes I didn’t need a whole lot of detail, I just wanted to define the body contours.

Next up, sculpting microbes

microbes-inprocess

When I first envisioned creating this art I planned to use zbrush to sculpt a base wasp, and then Cinema 4d’s mograph module to populate the surface with microbes, or perhaps even Vue’s ecosystem function (*TIP* Vue’s ecosystem function, meant to populate trees and plants across a landscape, also works well to scatter objects).  I quickly realized that the scattershot microbe approach wasn’t working. For the microbes to really look integrated and one with the wasp, I needed to selectively place the microbes according to the contours and the specific part of the body–more rod bacteria on the legs, strings of cocci along crevices, etc… It’s of course possible that if I had the programming knowledge I could have made the shotgun method work, but I don’t, so… my quick computer solution quickly turned into a VERY time consuming process of hand placing each microbe using Zbrush’s insert mesh tool (still very cool that it’s even possible with Zbrush).

I sculpted each variety of microbe (a few different rod bacteria, cocci, spiral…) and created a custom insert brush so that I could place them across the wasp’s body. In some places where less detail was needed I used an alpha brush with a mix of microbes as a texture, although in most places this proved to be too low resolution. After I had most of the microbes placed I turned on polypaint, so that I could individually paint the color of each microbe, and further added texture with noise textures (alpha brushes).

Putting it All Together

Now that I had my wasp composed of microbes, I rendered several different styles using zbrush’s built-in materials and imported them into Photoshop. Different materials emphasize different lighting, reflection, highlights… so I ended up compositing several different renderings to get the mix of colors and shading that I was looking for using several photoshop layer mix modes (overlay, color, multiply…). In the image below you can see several of the different lighting/material renderings from Zbrush that I composited in Photoshop.wasp-head-3ds

With the base microbes-wasp complete I continued to refine the art in photoshop. I used the photoshop stamp tool to duplicate some of the microbes into spots that were left a little bare in the zbrush renderings and I added some extra color to help it pop a bit more. With the help of Science News’ great art direction, I looked for parts that were flattening out and  then hand-drew (on my cintiq tablet) hatched shading to emphasize the distinction between microbes and highlight the overall body shape. Below left is the final color base made up of several different composited renderings. Below center is the line-work I drew and on the right is the final art with the drawn line-work on top of the color.

wasp-head-final

Thanks for checking out my work and my process. If you happen upon this and would like more info on specific programs or techniques in future posts, please let me know and specify what level of information in the comments.

 

Artwork for “Higgs: The God Particle, Found”

Sayo Studios: Science News - Higgs Boson Cover Image

Cover artwork for Science News article on the Discovery of the Higgs Boson, by N.R.Fuller of Sayo-Art LLC.

The Higgs boson has been the Holy Grail of physics since its proposal in the 1970s, so the announcement of its discovery on July 4th from scientists at CERN marked a watershed moment within the history of physics.

I’m excited to be a small part of the history by getting to create the artwork for the Science News cover and article on the subject.

When I first began my illustration career I interned at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and got a crash course in particle physics.  I don’t get to attempt the impossible and draw sub-atomic particles as much as I used to, so this was an exciting return. And luckily for me, the editors at Science News had clear ideas on what they wanted illustrated for the topic — as much as I love tackling conceptually difficult subjects, it’s great to have some help when it comes to particle physics.

The cover artwork for the July 28th issue of Science News shows the vigorous shaking of the field needed for the Higgs particle to ‘pop’ out.

The Higgs particle has been sought for 20 years, since 1973 when it was first proposed. The Large Hadron Collider was completed in 2008, at a cost of 9 billion dollars, largely with the hope of discovering the Higgs (or not). Billions of dollars to discover one particle? The Higgs particle isn’t called the God particle for nothing. It is the lynchpin of modern theories, that couldn’t be verified until now.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson particle could be an important first step towards understanding the 96% of our universe that is made up of dark matter and dark energy, the 96% that still remains mysterious and unknown.

Still, whatever comes in the future from this discovery, July 4th 2012 will certainly be remembered as a landmark day within physics and the scientific community as a whole.

Career Talk: Finding Your Niche

Following Your Passions to Find your Niche; Career Talk at Lewis and Clark College

Sayo Studios: Protein Synthesis Inside a Eukaryote CellI’m excited to share my story of transition from science-geek to a science-art-geek-hybrid at my alma mater, Lewis and Clark College, on Friday the 13th (oooo) at 3:30pm. I’ll get to talk a little bit about combining two seemingly disparate subjects (why, science and art of course) and hopefully offer some inspiration to those searching for their own weird combination. On Saturday I’ll follow it up with an introductory workshop on 2d and 3d Digital art. If you’re an LC student find-out place, time and register here: college.lclark.edu/offices/alumni/saa/events/.

Career Talk N.R. Fuller Lewis & Clark

Career Talk from N.R. Fuller of Sayo-Art LLC on combining your passions and finding your niche at Lewis and Clark College, April 13th, 3:30.

In light of the upcoming talk, I’ve been contemplating how my career path may be applicable to those with differing interests. The more I think about it, the more I realize that career happiness on a day to to day basis (and thus success… but that’s a whole ‘nother post) is largely based on PROCESS. Yes, I’ve found a way to combine two subjects I’m interested in, but I’ve also found a job that suits my personality for day-to-day activities.

From a young age we’re encouraged to think in terms of subject matter, and the jobs that relate to those subjects (well, perhaps other than the Village People’s set of careers) . Often it’s not even related to what subjects you ENJOY, but instead focused on what you’re good at. Of course, what you’re good at and what you enjoy are often one in the same, but for those out there searching for their (next) career path I’d argue reassessment might be helpful based on a couple of other factors…) A few examples that have been relevant for me:Sayo Studios: An Asteroid Finds an Unlucky Dinosaur

  • Detail or Generalist? Are you detail oriented and like plenty of time for a thorough job (mildly anal-retentive), or like me are you a big picture person who wants a quick turn-around so you can be passionate about a project for a defined time, and then BE DONE (mildly messy, flighty, and easily bored)?
  • People Person? Do you thrive being part of a team, or are you content being a lone wolf (like me, which is why I may go days not talking to anyone other than my 2yr old and husband)?

I’ll stop with the comparisons before getting too myers-brigg-ish, but you get my point. In retrospect it’s pretty clear why a bench scientist job wasn’t my perfect fit. The ideals of science–like learning how things work–great! Doing it in a methodical way and daily troubleshooting why your results are unintelligible? Not the perfect fit… for me. You may have noticed in the bullet list I included some negative descriptions in parenthesis. I think we’re sometimes handicapped from seeing and truly understanding ourselves, because Sayo Studios: An Ocelot Hunts An Agouti in Panamawe’ve learned to equate a specific trait with the negative description rather than the positive (what, me messy?). If you can learn to consider the positive side, it may allow you to accept the direction of your true potential. I know, a lofty goal. On the flip side, if we can learn to accept the negative description as well, it’s easier to recognize potential pitfalls, AND easier to laugh at ourselves. (Here’s to trying!)

Since we’re discussing negativity, another hang-up that took me awhile to get past were my narrow definitions of different fields. When I was younger I definitely fell into the rigidly idealistic category. I didn’t see art as a viable option, because I saw it as a black and white choice between being a poor, misunderstood ‘true-artist’ (yet another post for another time), or a commercial artist whose career and work would be entirely dictated by others’ wants (commercial = bad, to my young brain). Obviously, my sweeping generalizations were way off, but moreover it kept me from really learning what the jobs entailed. I crept into the commercial art field through the side-door, and it wasn’t until I turned around and realized I WAS a graphic artist that I really understood what it was all about and what I really digged: visual problem solving and communicating and taking someone else’s story to depict it visually.

So I guess in the end, remember to reassess what your limits are… they may just be your strengths, and reconsider paths you might have initially rejected.