I've been asked to make this structure look like it's made of wool yarn:
I've got flexibility in that I can make the end result look like a photograph or an illustration. My biggest problem is that I have no idea where to start. I've got Adobe CS6 Photoshop and while I might be able to get access to 3D software I have no knowledge base on using that.
Maybe just buys some wool, throw in the air and high-ish speed photographs of the result.
Then just crop to get a general match.
(unless they need the lines to match exactly, in which case you'll need the 3D dude)
One way or another its going to cost you - whether its more of your time taken up, not to mention any extra software you may have to purchase to achieve the results you're after or to hire the talent. I guess it comes down to your expectations/deliverables.
Where is the source file from? If its from 3d software itself then it might be possible to get it supplied as a compatible file. If you have a compatible file then you could render it in something like Artlantis or Bunkspeed Shot (or Hypershot) - been a while since I've used them but both renderers don't have too high a learning curve for a basic model/render. They aren't free though but can give you some very high quality professional renders.
Otherwise I foresee many hours/layers in Photoshop for a (potentially) compromised solution.
Thanks @Timbug, you're right. Given there is no budget for this project I was here to see if others had some different thoughts on how to approach this. I think your suggestion is a really good one - I have been offered the source file so I could follow through with that. It is perhaps something I should research for future projects and I really appreciate the starting points you and the other posters here have given me.
My constraints are that this image will be pitched to a magazine as a potential cover image. I need to turn it around within a week or so and it's not a high priority job. I think this time the most appropriate solution is to illustrate the structure along with a few other elements that make up the concept this time.