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Create a mock cover that visually showcases a scientific concept in a unique, compact, and clever manner.


What if life on earth began with an organism from the depths of space? Panspermia is the theory that interplanetary transfer via objects such as meteoroids is responsible for microbial organisms traveling to earth, effectively starting life on our planet.

This mock journal cover depicts this theory in a clever and compact way, playing on the idea that microbial organisms are aliens from outside earth that travel to and invade our planet.


Date: December 2020

Client: Professor Marc Dryer

Audience: Lay Audience

Software: Maya, ZBrush, Photoshop, Illustrator

Format: Mock journal cover for Nature Magazine

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While deciding on a topic, I stumbled on research by Kawaguchi et. al (“DNA Damage and Survival Time Course of Deinococcal Cell Pellets During 3 Years of Exposure to Outer Space”, published in Frontiers in Microbiology), which tested the theory of panspermia by effectively showcasing that aggregated bacteria can endure space environments for lengthy amounts of time. I was immediately inspired by the thought of space-travelling bacteria, and decided to showcase this concept by depicting the bacteria as aliens descending on earth.


After I decided that I wanted the bacteria to be showcased as aliens, I played with the idea of introducing a UFO into the scene. I decided between two ideas, the first one showcasing the bacteria in a UFO in outer space, and the second which depicted the bacteria descending onto earth. I decided to go with the second idea, since the UFO descending on earth is an image that many are familiar with due to popular culture, and I wanted the audience to immediately make a connection. I chose to depict the bacteria in several unique forms for visual intrigue, and following this decision, I created a comprehensive sketch to lay out colour choices and feel.


I began my 3D modeling for this piece with the UFO. Looking at several reference images from popular culture, I knew I wanted to depict the UFO as an intricate machine with several complex parts. I used various images of sci-fi panels and circuit boards as inspiration as I modeled this asset in Maya. I modeled most of the bacteria in Maya, bringing models over to ZBrush only when I wanted to add a more organic feel.


I chose to use a simple material for the UFO to not distract from the details, adding only a scratch map and some curvature for most of the components. I decided to depict the bacterial texture as visually complex to contrast the clean material of the UFO. I accomplished this by creating displacement maps which I then added onto each bacterium. For visual interest, I visualized some of the bacteria as semi-translucent and others as opaque, adding nHairs on some bacteria and DNA in others. For lighting, I chose to light the scene as if the key light was coming from the UFO, with some additional backlights and fill lights to define the form of the bacteria.



I brought the final render from Maya into Photoshop, where I added fog to heighten the volumetric lighting that was already in the scene. I also added motion blur to the bubbles, depth of field to the bacteria, and a city landscape in the background. Following these edits, I brought the image into Illustrator where I added the text and barcode.