Addicted to DNA #b3d


Hi everyone, my name is David and I’m addicted to bioscience illustrations.

Since the beginnings of science, there have been stories about science. I’m sure that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a story about hacking the human body) had people illuminating pages with sketches of the pseudo scientific. Anything to help people visualise the terrible future, or glittering promise, that the burgeoning new field held.

But I don’t work in science communication, I just dumb down the hard stuff.

Today journalists continue to struggle, relating the tales of the microscopic. Medicine and bio-science has an enormous effect on our lives, but it’s notoriously difficult to explain. You can’t really see any of this “machinery of life” and it doesn’t function in a relatable way.  So everything is an artistic interpretation.


In this example there is shallow depth of field, subsurface scattering and floaty particles… I mean really, whats going on here?

How do you texture a thing that doesn’t have a surface that people are used to? How do you light a thing that exists in the darkness of your body? How do you place a camera in a space that couldn’t really exist?

DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.

DNA strands are typically coiled up on themselves and surrounded by other cellular machinery. Therefore everything is a cheat. The question is:

“What does the story need?

Sometimes we need to suggest an investigative mood, police discovering the truth. So I might choose a clean, graphic style suggesting that there is no where to hide.


Other times we need to represent the challenges of scientific complexity. Developing a new tool for medicine or discovering a novel theory about physiology. In this case I may illustrate the search of the unknown with messy, dark corners


But the most challenging part is trying to achieve all this in the shortest possible time. There are great tools available for integrating actual molecular structure like BioBlender or  for virus’ Autopack. But they tend to make dense challenging to render models. They seem quite accurate and informative, but in TV News we often aim to conveying broad outlines instead of dry facts that are hard to convey. In the render below I used child particles for complexity and low memory use. And while I love shallow depth of field effects, they suck up a LOT of Cycles samples! So I placed a glossy plane behind the feature object with some roughness. This gives a nice contrast between sharpness and blurry background. I also cheated in a hint of fake DOF from the compositor. You can pick out a little halo around the particle edges.


The reason for these cheats?

Most of what I do is animation and most of my animations tend to require shots that are 10-12 seconds long. At 25 frames per second thats at least 250 x (slow render). Which is time that I can’t afford to rerender.

All of these techniques allow me to produce this information clip about the medication PrEP. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pill (brand name Truvada) contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) that are used in combination with other medicines to treat




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s