I still struggle a lot with lighting and shaders, and rely way too much on compositing to fix everything. One of my profs noted at one point how my lighting fails to bring out the full form of the objects, resulting in a flattened look. I think this is still often the case in my work. I recently purchased Digital Lighting & Rendering by Jeremy Birn, so hopefully I will be able improve on this point!
SSB protein in two rendering styles / pdb ID: 1EQQ
Autodesk Maya 2011, Adobe After Effects CS5.5
A bit of background on the protein: As implied by their name, single stranded binding (SSB) proteins bind and stabilize DNA in its single stranded, unwound state name in events such as DNA replication. Depending on the conditions, SSB proteins can operate in two modes: (1) (SSB)35: ssDNA wraps around two SSB subunits so that ~35 nucleotides are occluded, and (2) (SSB)65: ssDNA interacts with all four subunits, resulting in the occlusion of ~65 nucleotides.
Technical stuff: In the top image, I used a strong backlight and a simple subsurface scattering (SSS) shader, The bottom image is a tweaked ambient occlusion pass.
Perhaps it's time to build that DNA model...