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Friday, December 27, 2013

New Limted Edition Prints in Store! Retro/ Vintage Apple & Macintosh Faux Product Posters

I wanted to announce that I now have prints available on my Etsy store of the Apple & Macintosh faux advertisements I made a while back which were featured on my blog at an earlier point.

They have received a warm welcoming since posting. They are all signed and numbered limited editions.

As a reminder if you didn't see the original posts all artwork are original vector tributes to different art styles and decades. The Bondi iMac is done in the style of a psychedelic 1960's concert poster, the 1st generation iPod is done in an Art Deco inspired Early 1900's Print Advertisements, and the Macintosh Plus is an homage to the style and artwork of the 1980's. All artwork features original prices, release dates, and specs of featured illustrated products.

Check it out!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Using 3d / CGI (or the illusion of) for presenting your work

I wanted to do a quick post about presenting artwork by using 3d software to make your portfolio shine above the rest. A long ways back I wrote an article about how presentation is your portfolio is just as important as the work/ content in your portfolio.

 This is an extension to that advice. Below are images that I put together which showcase some of my 2d artwork using 3d compositions to bring the artwork to life:

As you can see, presenting your artwork in simple 3D compositions can really make your work stand out. Most art directors go through hundreds of portfolios a day. Use techniques like this to make the cut.

If you do not know how to use 3d software, try something like this:

I made this piece %100 in photoshop (artwork itself was done in illustrator and photoshop.)

You don't need to be a 3d artist to creatively showcase your work, you just need to be creative with the tools you have available!

If you can't be bothered with this kind of stuff or would like me to do it for you shoot me an email for a quote. 

If you found this information helpful please consider donating to the blog so that I can continue to offer free advice and do so on a more regular basis...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sketching and Painting Hikes: Landscape Painting, Drawing, and Sketching at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

For a little more than six months now I have been assisting my wife, who is employed as an Interpretive Naturalist at Las Vegas' local hiking and general outdoor mecca, Red Rock Canyon.

Basically, Liz leads a group of visitors on short hikes to some of Red Rock Canyon's most scenic areas where during the walk Liz will give a series of lectures on the history, plants, wildlife, and the climate of the South Western Mojave Desert. Once we arrive at the destination, I give instruction, tips, and tricks to give hike-goers an introduction to how to sketch, draw, and paint Landscapes as well as the basics of drawing wildlife and plants.

The event is in the process of being elaborated upon in which rather than giving just an introduction to Landscape Painting and Drawing during the course of a single hike we will actually work on developing a finished composition over the course of 2 or 3 outings.

Below are a few pictures of some of the fun we had at our last outing, as well as Liz doing her thing!

We are currently discussing starting a blog dedicated to the "sketching/ painting" hikes for posting news, updates, and artwork from each future event. I will also continue to post updates here at

If you would like to sign up for one of Liz's next hikes ( the next one is a historical sketching hike at the Willow Springs trail-head on Saturday 10/26/2013 ) call (702) 515-5367

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Error Code Adventures: Setting up (and making it work) a Render Farm with Maya, Mental Ray, and Backburner

Very recently I was contacted by a producer who is working on a feature animated movie that wanted me to act as a consultant for the creation of the Production Trailer for the film. Apparently I am one of few people in Nevada with the technical knowledge/ experience for setting up reliable, fast performing Render Farms (within a reasonable budget as far as Render Farm standards go.) 

For this project I was also given the lead on creating lighting, acting as quality control for texturing, and for optimizing rendering preferences/ executing rendering. 

While I do have extensive knowledge in building and maintaining render farms (refer to post: ) the last and most recent render farm I built was constructed with 3ds Max, Vray Distributed Rendering, and Backburner. 

Crossing over to a Maya/ Mental Ray model took some getting used to. First I would like to warn anyone attempting this: Maya & Mental Ray's Network Render is a little more complex than the setup and execution of a 3ds Max with Vray Render Network. There are subtle differences that if not properly understood will make the process take several hours more than it should.

Despite the differences and deficiencies of the en-devour, ultimately within a few hours I was able to get all of the Render Farm Slaves to communicate properly with the Render Manager and actually bump out some fantastic render speed results. Throughout this process I had to troubleshoot several error codes from Maya/ Backburner that were very obscure and for which I found little support online. Each error made me permanently, slightly more insane. The feeling I got after conquering the errors is equatable to the feeling you get after a 12 hour day of manual labor in the desert sun (a great feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion.)

For a little background on the setup: The International Academy of Design and Technology, Las Vegas partnered with the producer of the film and supplied us with about 24 Alien Ware computers with Intel i7 Processors with a second room in the process of being upgraded and networked.

With 24 computers acting as slaves, at 1920x1080p we were able to finish about 120 frames in 40 minutes, averaging 3 minutes per render. This was with optimal rendering preferences (with the exception of motion blur and depth of field) and some pretty complex textures and lighting.

I just wanted to give an update and some insight to setting up a Maya, Mental Ray, Backburner render farm and I might put up a tutorial at a later time but for now if you are attempting such an adventure, my best piece of advice is:
1) to be patient with the error codes (don't pull your hair out, you will overcome)
2) refer to Autodesks documentation and make sure you go through each step like a checklist,topicNumber=d30e681735,
3) and make sure the same version of Backburner is on all machines!

If you need further assistance, you can contact me at

By donating you make it easier for me to post more often on more topics and give me the ability to spend more time answering your questions. If you enjoy reading or have found any of my posts valuable feel free to let me know.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blog Award!!!

Today I checked my email inbox to find that my blog has been featured on BLOG AWARDS! Here is the URL for you to check out

I would like to thank the team at Jupiter Web and Software Solutions for taking the time to not only operate such a great blog database but for also honoring me as their featured blog.I would also like to thank all of my visitors, especially the regulars who keep my blog alive! I couldn't do it without you.

Go team Kaplan Design Labs!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chalkboard Art: Superzoo 2013

Hey now! Apologies for not posting more frequently lately but I have been busy busy busy (which is a good thing.)

I wanted to post a recent Chalkboard Art piece I did for Darford/ CanAm on site during the build day of Superzoo 2013, a massively large Pets/ Animal supplies convention here in Las Vegas which features everything from dog biscuits to aquariums.

This piece took about 6.5-7 hours on a 36"x24" board. I am quite the perfectionist so I wish I would have had more time for the clean-up process but I am very pleased with the way this one came out. Usually I am accustomed to doing this type of work at my studio but due to the short notice and circumstances of the project I actually went on site and did this during the exhibit build. Check it out!

And here is the original digital mock-up I put together:

As you can see the final product came out slightly different. This is pretty common when translating the digital information on to the physical board as spacing and layout adjustments have to be made to account for text size, legibility, etc. of final typography. All and all I would say I definitely captured the essence and was even able to make the final product a bit more fun. For an in studio project it is common that I spend 4 hours just working on the block-in and layout of the elements on the board.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How well do you see color?

One of my former life drawing instructors posted this test on Facebook. It tests the accuracy of your color vision. Color tests can be important for determining deficiencies, showing signs of possible illness, and for seeing how well a potential employee might suit a position with a company (design or art related industries.) 

I scored a "perfect color vision." On a scale of 0-100 with 0 being the best possible outcome. The test took me about 4-5 minutes and is pretty fun. Most people are reporting landing in the 15-30 range.

And here is a link to my former instructor's blog whom I learned about this test from:

Here are some interesting statistics in relation to color blindness and the use of color tests:


Friday, April 19, 2013

Illustrations: "The Young Dinosaur of Red Rock Canyon" (working title) - Various Illustrations of Desert Animals and Dinosaurs for Children's Book

About four months ago I was commissioned to be the illustrator for a Children's Book about a Dinosaur that comes to life from fossilized eggs at modern day Red Rock Canyon, a conservation area just outside of Las Vegas. The author needed about 20 full page illustrations for the book. I have been compositing 2d Illustrations with photo's and matte paintings of Red Rock to give the illustrations a fun, unique direction that still showcases the natural beauty of the Conservation Area. Below are collages of the original line drawings as well as the Photoshop painted renditions of selected characters from the book. We are about half-way through the illustrations at this point and actively seeking out publishers for the project. I will be posting some finished illustrations in the upcoming weeks but for now I wanted to give everyone a taste of what I have been working on. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sketchbook Drawing: Vintage Illustration of Camera Collection

Hey everyone, I did this drawing of my camera collection in my sketchbook the other night. I thought it would be fun to draw it in the style of a vintage advertisement (as my camera collection consists of retro cameras such as the Kodak Brownie Bullseye and the Argus Seventy Five.) I have been brushing up on my illustration skills as a vast majority of my work as of late has been digital. When you reach a very high skill level make sure you practice your abilities as often as possible to "keep your chops fresh." Enjoy!

- Jonathan Kaplan - -

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Kaplan Design Labs Website Goes Live!

Hello friends,

I would like to announce that my new website Kaplan Design Labs,, is now live. I am still adding portfolio content (which is endless) as well as editing content, but please check it out if you haven't already and tell your friends.

Here you can find all my blog posts, my company bio, my services, my portfolio, contact info, and links to all my social media. I will still be posting on this blog so don't worry but you can find all the same content at the main site as well. Thank you for reading and especially those of you who keep me in your RSS feeds. There will be an upcoming website launch party so those of you in Las Vegas, check back frequently for updates. Those of you who are not in Las Vegas, don't worry, I will be posting all the highlights on facebook, twitter, and of course! Let me know what you think of the site and thank you for continuing to read the blog!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Octane Render: Final Verdict

*** There have been some great comments on this post that shine some insight on what results are like with multiple heavy duty graphics cards, be sure to check them out! My findings were based on the use of a single mid-high level graphics card. Since I did my own tests, multiple graphics cards engineered for the specific purpose of GPU based rendering have been released. From what I hear if you get a couple of those beasts, GPU based rendering can in fact be a very fast rendering platform without the need of a several computer render farm.***

Sorry for the delay on posting, I have been in the process of re-branding my company. You can see my new website at - I will also post my marketing materials soon so that you can see what I have been up to.

Anyways, In my last post,

Octane Render: First Impressions in GPU & Physics Based Rendering

I talked about my opinions on the GPU/ Physics based Octane Render Engine. I also touched on some of the benefits of GPU based rendering. Since my last post I have conducted further testing with Octane Render Engine and I have some interesting results. This review is primarily focused on the Octane Render Plugin for 3ds Max rather than the stand alone version. To me, having to export and import my scenes into a separate piece of software is tedious and if I have to do so I can't say that using Octane Render would be a superior rendering experience -so for me, I didn't bother too much with the Stand Alone version and focused mostly on using the 3ds Max Plugin version. 

1) Render Time:

As I mentioned in the previous post when I was working solely with the demo version of Octane Render the resolution was limited to 1000 X 1000 pixels. Since then we purchased the full version and have been able to get more accurate figures in terms of render speed at high resolution. On that note- While GPU based rendering/ Octane Render Engine boasts about increased render speeds, this is a slightly misleading claim. Octane Render plugin comes with a great viewport which allows you to see a high quality render through your preview window. This means you have the ability to have a pretty good sense of what your scene is going to look like rendered, without having to render. This can save a ton of time in the development process because you don't have to constantly do test renders to gauge progress. 

While the viewport preview is great, when it comes to actually rendering scenes my results weren't as good as anticipated. On the subject of actual render time, while Octane Render does create a really nice, crisp, realistic render, it actually seems from a number of tests conducted that Vray actually renders faster than Octane Render. This comes down to a matter of a few seconds of difference when rendering out a low resolution image; however, at high resolutions they were minutes apart. Keep in mind that this is when setting Octane's sampling levels to a high amount to get maximum quality. If you set the samples low, it renders extremely fast; however, the quality drastically decreases. When trying to decide whether or not to switch over to GPU/ Physics based Render Engines like Octane, this really does not motivate me to do so.

It is impotent to note that for these tests I was rendering Octane with a single Quadro 4000 which is a very nice graphics card. If you were using multiple high end graphics cards, instead of a single card, render times would probably be a lot lower. In my opinion though, investing your money in an i7 processor makes more sense then buying multiple high performance graphics cards which have little application outside of gaming and GPU based rendering. 


Render time at 4000 x 4000

Vray 1:15
Octane 4:59

2) Quality:

As I said and as displayed above, the final renders Octane creates are quite stunning. The sense of realistic shadows and reflections and the overall realistic quality of the finished render are very nice. While the render quality is great, I did run into a huge problem that affects my opinion of Octane Render. 

At my current job, I take 3d Models which were textured to suit either Vray or Mental Ray and render them out from dozens of various angles. I do hundreds of these renders a day. As with Vray, Octane Render Plugin has a function to "Convert" textures from Mental Ray or Vray into Octane Textures which are essential for the renders to come out correctly. Sounds good right? Wrong! While Octane seems to have no problem converting basic textures, on more complex textures many of conversions had major errors correctly converting color, bump maps, and reflections, as well as a variety of other issues. While it isn't too difficult to go in and "fix" the textures, when you are like me and you have to render out hundreds of objects a day, this is a major issue. If you are building your own models and textures from scratch you would avoid this issue but for large scale operations I would not suggest putting all of your eggs in this basket. For this reason, we determined that making a company wide switch to Octane Render just didn't make sense. 

3) Conclusion

While Octane Render is a very promising addition to your current render arsenal, don't go running out to make a major switch to Octane from platforms like Vray and Mental Ray. Because final, high resolution renders simply do not appear to be any faster than existing engines like Vray, this is a major drawback. On the contrary, the cost of Octane is in the range of $150 making it a pretty affordable option, especially for those of you just looking to get your feet wet in GPU based rendering. Also, on a positive note, Octane was recently purchased by a larger company called OTOY. Since then Octane has started seeing regular updates and seems to be out of the Beta stages so hopefully they address some of these issues.

Donate to the Blog

By donating you make it easier for me to post more often on more topics and give me the ability to spend more time answering your questions. If you enjoy reading or have found any of my posts valuable feel free to let me know.