Schwann Cell 3D Sculpt

This project comes after the pelvis Zbrush sculpt, where we reconstructed skeletal structures from DICOM data. This is our first 3D project in BMC where we sculpted organic objects from scratch. My classmates really showed off their newly gained sculpting skills using ZBrush on this one –– but I decided to do mine in nothing but Maxon Cinema 4D. I had just started understanding deformers in C4D better, and I was excited by how simply keyframing an attribute of a deformer would give you some pretty cool dynamic visuals.

We had the options of depicting a cellular phenomenon, or a gross one. I went with cellular –– simply because there are things about neurons that I’ve been wanting to depict but never got the chance to. Many medical illustrators have rendered a 3D neuron/cell body at some point, but the Schwann cells rarely get any 3D love (despite that they are much more fun to build). You’ve probably seen a schematic neuron, like these in your textbook, where the width of the axon is uniform throughout and there is no mention of the basal lamina at all. Also, glial cells are often depicted next to the neurons –– but what about during a nerve injury? It probably didn’t occur to you that immune cells like macrophages are also around to help maintain the robustness of your peripheral nervous system.

Radivoj V. Krstic’s Microscopic Anatomy plates to the rescue. In my concept sketch, I decided to include two different cross-sections of the Schwann cell, highlighting the bulge at either end of the node of Ranvier, and a layer of the basal lamina.

Schwann Cell Render Concept Sketch
Schwann Cell Render Concept Sketch

When it comes to the lighting of the scene, I initially set up the scene in a way to depict a relatively tranquil cellular environment. However, upon stumbling upon the stunning micrography by @nerdcandy , I completely changed my mind about the lighting setup.

Macrophage and axons
Macrophage and axons first render draft

Schwann Cell

The second draft of Schwann cell interaction with macrophage during Wallerian degeneration.

The ease of animation is one reason why I wanted to do everything in C4D. I’m still working on the final animation, but you can see a quick clip here:

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