In the late 1990s, Colie Wertz landed a dream job working as a digital-effects artist at Industrial Light & Magic, the whiz-bang effects house founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas. He was helping to push the creative envelope for visual effects on big-budget blockbusters like Men in Black and the Star Wars prequels. And he did it as part of an off-the-grid team known as the Rebel Mac Unit.
“We were set up to use off-the-shelf software as generalists on Macs while the rest of the facility was using some pretty specialized software that only ran Unix,” Wertz says. “But we were also using software that nobody else had access to on that platform, like Photoshop, After Effects, and FormZ. We were a one-stop shop for most developmental facets of a final shot for a film. Macs ran the software we needed, and they did it well.”
The focus on Macs as creative tools wasn’t unique to the Rebel Mac Unit. In fact, in the ’90s and early 2000s the creative class was drawn to Macs for their intuitive interface and relative stability compared to PCs. What’s more, in an era when most PCs were bulky, black or beige cubes, the curvy and colorful aesthetics of the iMac were like technological catnip for creative professionals. Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ad campaign helped convince consumers that PCs were just fine for the geeks in accounting, but that the cool kids—especially those in design suites—should stick with Macs.
In recent years, however, content creators have become more brand agnostic, and have begun exploring the world beyond Macs. For many, the best computer is whichever one can get the job done properly—and done quickly. “My mother was a senior network engineer, so I understood from a young age that it’s not the logo on the outside that matters, but the hardware on the inside,” says Robbie Crawford, an award-winning surf photographer and digital artist based in southern California. “Can it drive the applications that I need? And can it render and process the work I’m doing?”
“MY PC SMOKES YOUR MAC”
These days, sophisticated software programs require powerful hardware—heavy duty graphics cards, cutting-edge processors, and many times more RAM than the average computer user. And for many content creators, the most powerful machines are found outside of the Apple ecosystem. “I’ve always looked at it like, ‘If you can give me a Mac that’s as powerful as a PC, that’s fine. But for now, my PC smokes your Mac,’ ” Crawford says.
The programs Colie Wertz used at ILM nearly 20 years ago pale in comparison to today’s evolved, feature-packed versions. New software allows editors like Crawford to manipulate 360-degree video, seamlessly changing the field of view from a bystander on a beach to a surfer in the barrel of a wave. And high-end rendering programs allow Mike Brightman, a visualization artist and workflow consultant, to create lifelike three-dimensional reproductions from clients’ two-dimensional blueprints.
“Years ago, it was the software that was great and the hardware was lacking,” Brightman says. “We used to have to let the computer run overnight to render one image. Now, an image that used to render overnight takes seconds. I’ve never been so satisfied with the tools that I have today. And in my line of work, the bang for your buck that you get out of a PC is exponentially better.”
GET MORE DONE, FASTER
Wertz uses Octane Render, an ultra-high-end 3D rendering application that helps him translate his sketched-out visions into three-dimensional form. The images render in real time, giving him crucial feedback during the design process. “It used to take a lot of work to figure out how light would reflect on a model I was working on,” he says. “Now, I can just move a few points on the model and see how it interacts with an accurately lit environment.”
The software also is incredibly resource-intensive, requiring a computer that is equal to the task. His $10,000 desktop setup can run Octane without a hiccup, but Wertz can’t be chained to his home office. His MSI Prestige series laptop with 32 gigabytes of RAM and other high-end hardware doesn’t keep him waiting when a colleague in Europe needs an illustration adjusted in the middle of the night. “Portability is tremendously important for me,” he says. “If my production designer needs a new rendering on Octane—bam, I can do that on my laptop.”
Having a laptop with enough power to handle demanding jobs has allowed Robbie Crawford to be more efficient on extended shooting gigs. A three-week trip to Oahu’s North Shore used to mean stockpiling footage he’d have to pore over once he got home. Now, he can start editing content on his MSI laptop and deciding which takes to keep after each day of shooting.
“It’s very freeing to have a laptop that’s so powerful,” he says. “And power is what I need. It helps me get more work done, and done faster. And that’s what matters to me.”
This article was created for and commissioned by MSI.