The new iMac Pro

Did it say Hello? 

A few days ago, I had the incredible privilege of being sent the new iMac Pro for performance testing from Apple. I've been in the VFX (Visual Effects) industry for almost twenty years and during my journey had the chance to work on a wide variety of Video Games Cinematics over at Blizzard Entertainment and more recently joined the team over at Lightstorm Entertainment to collaborate on James Cameron's Avatar Sequels.

Over my two decades at creating CGI (computer-generated-imagery), I had the chance to learn on Linux, complete many projects on Windows, and am now running a fully loaded Mac Pro.

I love my Mac Pro, and right when I thought it couldn't be better... this box shows up on my doorstep...  The new 2017 iMac Pro...  




Apple did it again. The box and packaging on the new iMac Pro alone had me blown away. Apple found a way to reinvented something as simple as a box and managed to make the unpacking another level of the consumer experience. I know it’s kinda funny to pay attention to these sort of things but aside from the excellent materials and finishes, they manage to simplify the steps involved in getting the computer ready to go. Peel the main tape strip, the front box panels open, put the computer on the table, remove the protective sleeve and there you have it. Only one cable wire to connect for power, and I'm already logging in...



Loggin in

My current line of work as a VFX Art Director requires me to use many different Graphic Design software. From Photoshop, to Maya, Keyshot, Vray, Final Cut Pro, Da Vinci Resolve, Nikon Capture NX to name a few... In fact, I have so many that setting up a new computer can be quite a project. Not to mentioned death by a thousand paper cut setting up email accounts and website login memberships and what not. But once again, Apple found a way to streamline everything into a single click solution. Apple Keychain, my Apple store account, and my Gmail account made everything ready to go. By just logging in Google Plus, Mail detected the account and my email was set up. Amazing. Once I logged into the App Store using my Apple ID, I was able to quickly download and run some software such as Final Cut and Da Vinci Resolve. The App Store recognizes the software was already paid for, and in minutes I'm up and running. This really was my fastest transition from one computer another ... ever...


The 5K monitor !

My everyday monitor is everything to me. From resolution and precision to calibration and color accuracy, I will go as far as purchasing used, discontinued monitor when I find the perfect match for what I do. I have been working on the 30" Cinema Display monitor for many years over at Blizzard Entertainment. I liked the size and the colors a lot, but when I got my new Mac Pro, I bought the 4K retina display to go with, and I was blown away. I was sorry to see the monitor being discontinued and had to find a used one on Craig's list for my editing station because I liked it so much. But ... the new iMac Pro 2017 ... and its 5K resolution monitor is out of this world. It is ... insanely sharp. It feels like looking at real life 20/20 for the first time.

Below: An MOI screen grab of an M-128A mortar CAD file from a personal project.


Here is something interesting... I recently bought another LG 5K monitor for a PC station I use for other applications. I was excited about the fact it was 5K until I turned it on. The contrast, the precision, the calibration, the resolution, everything was wrong about it. It made all my icons and fonts look insanely small, and the sharpness looked like a fried sharpen filter cranked to the max. Whereas the new iMac Pro 5K monitor, was once again, out of the box, perfect. It is ... so clear! The colors and contrast are looking flawless and ready to go without any adjustments needed, and this instantly made me want to launch Photoshop to look at some of my work.


Photoshop CC

As a VFX AD, most of my work happens in Photoshop. I currently run CC 2015.5, on a fully loaded Mac Pro where some of the Billboard movie poster files I had the chance to work on can reach 4.32 GB. I have managed VFX Matte Painting movie shots where the Photoshop file would have in the 200 layers + while under a resolution of 10,000 + pixel wide. The Mac Pro handles it, but in those scenarios, you can tell it starts to feel overwhelmed. The new iMac Pro ... crushes it in terms of performance, and makes working on these sort of files a breeze. It is literally, twice as fast as my fully loaded Mac Pro. We've all experienced heavy deadlines working on files that lead the process to a grinding halt. The new iMac Pro paves the way for an entirely transparent process, which allows you to get in the zone without any hiccups so you can focus on creating... stress free.



But what about 3D?? 

Ok, I'm impressed... So my 4.32 GB 16bit Movie billboard file that had my Mac Pro to a grinding halt due to its crushing file size now performs on the new iMac Pro like it's a non-issue... so what about the 3D design file that gets my viewport to chug?? As a VFX Art Director on movies or video game commercials, 3D is the primary medium. We all had to work for a movie director at some point or another who wants to simulate the entire ocean in 3D at real scale or make a 3D cityscape the size of Tokyo crumble in a massive earthquake disaster scenario. Good VFX is often about using a lot of 3D geometry, and this is where the Mac Pro has been a bit behind. It seems over the last few years, Apple's focus has been on Photography, Graphic Design and Filmmaking. The previous AMD FirePro cards were maybe great for Color Grading in Da Vinci Resolve or Final Cut per say, but the issue is, nowadays movies are almost made of 80% computer graphics ... also known as ... 3D.

Below: A 3D Matte Painting shot I collaborated on for Star Craft II Heart of the swarm.


The new iMac Pro, once again, crushes it regarding viewport performance in 3D programs such as Maya, MOI, and Keyshot. I have not tried ZBrush yet, but so far, the difference with my fully loaded Mac Pro is ... drastic. The open GL and viewport graphic acceleration have been a bit of an issue for me in the past in Maya (Viewport 2.0) even when using the Alembic file format. But the new iMac Pro tumbles the viewport of my 3D scenes as if I have nothing open!?!

Ok, now this is getting interesting... what happens when we take this geometry and start talking about rendering and lighting calculation? I currently do most of my movie design work using Keyshot. Keyshot is a real-time raytracer that is mainly using the CPU as opposed to the GPU like most recent path-tracers such as Octane or Red Shift. Once again, the iMac Pro is TWICE as fast as my fully loaded Mac Pro, and this opened up a whole new way of working for me. I can now see final renders almost immediately, which lets me focus on the creative side of things once again.

Below: A Keyshot screengrab of a shaded and lit M-128A mortar CAD file. 



Time for Realtime                    

With all this buzz around VR and AR lately, it was inevitable for a VFX AD like me to eventually play with the medium. VR and AR both have something in common that differs from VFX movie work. It all has to be real time. :/ Just like a video game, all the computer graphics are calculated in real time. Unity and Unreal Engine are two game engines that will allow a creator to import 3D models and start creating for VR/AR content. But before getting into VR development, I wanted to see what the new iMac Pro could do towards a standard video game like Counter Strike CS: GO...


Game On

I don't play many video games, but when I do, I play Counter-Strike Global Offense. CS: GO is a first-person shooter classic created by Valve on which I've had the chance to rack up a healthy 467 hours of play time :O. This online multiplayer first-person shooter is all about speed, where most hardcore gamers will turn all quality settings off to make sure they benefit from maximum performance. On the new iMac Pro, I was able to max out every single quality settings to full, and the gameplay remained completely unaffected. It was really cool to see the game as it is meant to be seen and still be able to play at the maximum frame rate.

Below: A Counter Strike CS:GO screengrab showcasing the latest "CS:Italy" map.




Aside from all my VFX Art Director work, I had the chance to shoot a few commercials and short films. A career vector I intend to pursue more and more. Coming from working on blockbuster movies, I tend to use similar equipment and process when producing projects of my own. I shoot my plates on an ARRI Alexa camera, or a RED and process everything in Final Cut Pro, and grade my final colors in Da Vinci Resolve. Editing and Color Grading are perhaps my favorite part of the filmmaking process, and usually where I lean towards regarding making equipment purchase decisions. My Mac Pro has been shining in this particular area especially when it comes to grading ARRI 4K plates in real-time in Da Vinci Resolve. Movie making, whether it be editing or color grading must happen in real time. If not, it can be difficult to evaluate the pacing of a scene or sequence. And with TV's hitting the consumer market with 4K resolution, the need for creators to deliver high-resolution content is a necessity. Once again, the new iMac Pro makes the creative process completely transparent. I never considered my Mac Pro slow in this area ... until I tried the new iMac Pro. Whether in Final Cut Pro X or DaVinci Resolve, scrubbing the timeline is beyond real-time. It once again, had me look at my content from a new point of view. The process is beyond fluid!




With the real-time and gaming industry slowly shifting to the VR/AR realm, I had no choice but to hop on the bandwagon. So one Saturday, after seeing my co-workers all week getting a kick out of Oculus Rift, I decide to shoot for Best Buy to get myself a headset, only to get turned down by the cashier telling me it is not compatible with the mac... fine, I'll wait, I tell myself.

It turns out, Apple has made significant strides in the VR/AR realm and made the iMac Pro ready to go for VR development. Though the Oculus Rift is not compatible with the MAC, the VIVE is! I did not have the chance to try to VIVE before, but after some experience on the RIFT, I have to say I like the VIVE better. The perfectly streamed line workflow for me is everything, but the headset itself is more comfortable especially when it comes to eyestrain. I find the Oculus makes me a bit dizzy after a while...



More to be tested, more to be played with, but at a first look, I'm thrilled to see Apple committed to supporting full 3D development. The new iMac Pro is crushing it in 3D applications such as Maya, Unreal and MOI while retaining everything that it was already really good at on the Filmmaking side of things. As for my older Mac Pro, I don't think I've ever noticed any downsides about it. I've had it for about two years now, and love everything about it. From projects like the World of Warcraft Movie to the Avatar Sequels, my Mac Pro has never let me down. In fact, I never noticed it being slow in anyways .... until I tried the new iMac Pro.

The new iMac Pro is simply put, better in every way. Perhaps even, twice as impressive in every way. Once you've laid eyes on the 5K monitor, it’s hard to look at anything else. Apple did it again. They created something I didn't know I needed until I tried it... and now, must have it.