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Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a 'T'

Client: Marc Dryer

Audience: Interested public

Format: Print (magazine cover), 8.5 x 11"

Media: Autodesk Maya, Pixologic ZBrush   Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator

Date: December 2018 / June 2019 (updated)

A whimsical mock cover for Science Magazine based on an article about a potential new therapy using NK cells to fight cancer in a similar way as an existing T-cell therapy.

Assets were modeled from scratch in Maya, model details were refined in ZBrush, texture maps were painted in ZBrush and Photoshop, then assets were rendered and exported from Maya. Renders were edited in Photoshop, and composited in Illustrator.

The poses and title were a nod to the famous Muhammad Ali photo by Neil Leifer (1965).

Process Work



Quick photoshop sketches to work out layout and colour blocking for potential ideas for the cover. At this point I already knew I wanted to go with the boxing analogy to portray "cancer-fighting cells".

Comprehensive Sketch


Photoshop sketch that was approved before beginning the Maya modeling. In this stage I worked out the models I would need and the layers I would have to render out in order to place them in front of the text boxes.



Using this James Taylor tutorial, I built and rigged a base character mesh (left) for the two characters. Then I moved them into their poses and began modelling the finer details and adding clothes (right). The bases of the shorts, belt, and boots (beige) originated from the Maya Content Browser. The gloves, belt medals, and shoelaces were built from scratch in Maya and then moved to ZBrush.


The clothes were refined and painted in ZBrush. Because the article centres on the role of chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), one of the small details I included was the letters "CAR" on the NK cell's gloves, as well as "CANCER" on the cancer cell's glove.


The ornaments on the belt read "IMMUNE SYSTEM", "NK", and "BMC". The text was arranged on the polypaint texture maps in photoshop. These labels are barely visible in the final cover, but they are there!

Screenshot (6).jpg

The Maya viewport view (left) and camera view (right). Because the final cover is a still image, I didn't have to worry about details that were out of frame, like the cancer cell's boots and other glove. The boxing ring was modeled in Maya, and the audience were generated with MASH.

Finished Work

Cancer fighting NK cells Muhammad Ali Sonny Liston Neil Leifer

The final draft that was submitted December 2018 (left) and a new version refined in June 2019 that was submitted to the AMI 2019 Salon (right). Some differences in the new version include more contrasted lighting, smaller audience members, cancer's glove label, and cancer's specular highlights. Many thanks to Marc Dryer for the invaluable help!


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