Visuals for "Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within"

Michael Yarus (aka Mike) came to me about helping him create all the insert visuals for his new book "Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within". The book is published by Harvard University Press and is now available on their website and on Amazon. Harvard University Press produced the cover visual (Ill find out who did that image once I get a copy of the book). The visual inserts that I rendered are below and I provided the B&W and colored versions together. The inserts for the book were printed in B&W.

Production notes:
After several meetings with Mike discussing the data and concepts for the visuals that to be included in the book as inserts, I had to do a bit of research finding the data and which visual scientific software I was going to use in my production workflow. I used PDB data file "2gis.pdb" for the model data which can be downloaded from the Protein Data Bank website. I was familiar with VMD (Visual Molecular Dynamics) software in past projects at JILA. I typically use VMD in coordination with Maya where I would use VMD to produce the models and then use Maya for its rendering environment. I like VMD, but I found its interface and functions to be difficult to use (it is an older piece of software). I heard about PyMol which is an open source molecular visualization system. I thought it might be a good software to use for this particular project because it has pretty sweet openGL rendering environment that I could use on Mac and PC computers. PyMol had better support and controls that I could use to create different visual representations of the data! I also discovered that it could render out some beautiful renderings without necessary having to port data model to Maya which help save me a lot of time in my work-flow (when compared to my work-flow with VMD and Maya). I still wanted to export the model data from PyMol and incorporate Maya, and PyMol made this much easier than VMD. I essentially export model data in PyMol by exporting it as VRML format (.wrl files) which I could then open in Maya. The hardest part about this project was learning how to use PyMol in a few days. I used Illustrator and Photoshop for layout and vector line work.

After completing the inserts and preparing them for print, there was some question about making a visual for the cover of the book. The editors at Harvard University Press had some plans already about creating the cover for the book and they did not really tell me about what they wanted to do for the cover. I am not sure who created the cover image or how the visual was created. I think it is an artist's conception of RNA. (ill find out which studio rendered that image eventually and update this posting) Regardless I wanted to attempt making a visual for the cover based on the data that was used for the inserts. I thought the possibility of using the data and visual that was already used for the inserts would help tie the book design together. The image below is my attempt. It is a multiple rendering of 2gis.pdb data file where you can see stick figure representation combined with the space filling representation. The rendering below was not published with the book, so it is for sale to anybody who wants to use it as a cover or visual for something. Just contact me. I still like this image and it has my art/design style. It is my interpretation of book title "Life from an RNA World: The Ancestor Within" as rendered from data. I think the editors at Harvard University Press probably thought the visual was too scientific or technically complex to be used as a cover visual. They wanted a more main stream visual that would probably sell more books. I thought cover image they used was pretty eye catching and will probably help promote their book sales.This was a fun project and I wanted to thank Mike Yarus for letting me work with him on the visuals. I also want to give special thanks to Julie Fiore from JILA for her help with giving me a quick crash course with PyMol!

  • Clients: Dr. Michael Yarus

  • Related Links: Buy the book at Amazon OR buy it from Harvard University Press
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