iMac Pro-based setup handles whatever this animator throws at it [Setups]

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Curtis Sponsler's iMac Pro-based setup requires both processing power and huge storage capacity.
Curtis Sponsler's iMac Pro-based setup requires both processing power and huge storage capacity for animation..
Photo: Curtis Sponsler

Miami-based Curtis Sponsler has been a 3D animator and motion graphics designer for more than 30 years. These days, that work takes copious amounts of computing power and massive storage capacity.

Fortunately, his current iMac Pro-based setup handles his needs well.

The man even built his own render farm in a closet with dedicated air conditioning to store and cool his video-rendering machines.

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It's not just a workspace, it's a formidable home theater. Cats need entertainment, too, you know.
It’s not just a workspace, it’s a formidable home theater. Cats need entertainment, too, you know.
Photo: Curtis Sponsler

A massive and inspiring DIY project

Sponsler built his setup in a room that he renovated and rewired extensively, over several weeks.

It’s been heavily modified with an open design and windows that let in lots of light. He said the whole room inspires him.

The front half is dedicated to a monster home theater with a ginormous 75-inch 4K LG HDR TV, an Apple TV 4K and a pair of “beastly” older JBL tower speakers with surround sound and a center channel.

“I used to be a movie theater projectionist and theater systems installer, so I’m extremely particular about quality image and sound,” he told Cult of Mac. “So while I work I watch movies, loudly, which inspires my creativity and eases my extended work hours.”

The back half contains the home office, where he built his setup.

Dumpster diving pays off

Sponsler built his workstation out of Ikea desks he found tossed in a dumpster at his old apartment complex. When he moved to his current home, he assembled several Ikea cabinets and interlocked them with the workstation desk.

He also designed and constructed a little computer stand and lift for the iMac Pro. It has LED lighting underneath for an “ooh-ahh factor,” Sponsler said, plus several cable drops finished with large cable grommets. He added a pair of aluminum arms to cradle his Apple Magic Keyboard.

Set forward on his desktop, Sponsler’s 11-inch iPad Pro acts as a pen digitizer for his Paint and Photoshop work. It connects to the iMac via Astropad Studio software that allows his iPad to function like a Wacom pen-driven tablet for drawing.

Sponsler tied everything together with a home-wide gigabit Ethernet network.

He uses a Mac mini as a Time Machine server with an attached 8TB Thunderbolt RAID. He also has two home-brew RenderNodes built with AMD Ryzen 9 3950X 16-core CPUs and 32GB of RAM. These video-rendering machines sit in an air-conditioned closet to keep them cool as they process his short films.

High-performance processing

At the moment, Sponsler’s testing a Dell 3630 workstation, which doesn’t hold up well against the iMac Pro.

“I have multiple workstations: the iMac Pro setup and a Dell 3630 I’m testing for Dell and AMD, pushing it to its limits,” Sponsler said. “I’ve brought it to its knees, whereas the iMac Pro hums along fine.”

His test Dell is connected to a 34-inch monitor LG 5K2K with a 21:9 aspect ratio, with a 27-inch LG 4K monitor as a secondary screen. He dreams of replacing that Dell fairly soon with a future Mac mini Pro he dearly hopes Apple will build.

He hopes his dream Mac mini Pro will come with an M1x processor packing 16 cores to better handle his film productions. He shoots 6K RAW camera footage, which needs heavy-duty conversion.

Storage is not snore-age

His work requires speedy and sizable storage, so he so uses an OWC 4M2 SSD enclosure with 8TB of storage over Thunderbolt 3. It also drives his 4K LG secondary monitor. He makes use of Cinema 4D with a Redshift GPU-accelerated renderer, Adobe After Effects and other hard-working programs.

All that be as it may, Sponsler said he can imagine an even better setup.

“Today I run an Apple iMac Pro as my main workstation supported by Windows machines for specific tasks and rendering,” he said. “I’m extremely excited by the idea of Apple shifting to ARM-based chips for all its machines — that could be serious power with great efficiency.”

As for all of his setup hopes and dreams, well, some may not be quite possible yet.

“I do wish for in the interim that Apple would develop a series of AMD CPU daughter cards for the new Mac Pro with Ryzen and/or Epyc multicore CPUs,” he said. “How cool would it be to have 256 cores at your fingertips, all in one beastly enclosure. Ahh, to dream …”

When asked if there’s anything else his setup could use, Sponsler had a ready answer.

“I’m looking to get the Loupedeck CT software for editing,” he said. “Then I’m hoping to get the Mac mini Pro — if they make it. Fingers crossed.”

Shop these items now:

iMac Pro with 64GB RAM, 2TB SSD, 10-Core (similar model at link)

OWC Express 4M2 ThunderBolt 3 SSD Enclosure, 4TB

LG 4K HDR 27UK600-W (similar product at link)

LG 4K 27-inch second monitor daisy-chained through 4M2 array

iPad Pro 11-inch (new version linked) with Astropad Studio via USB-C

Satechi Type-C Clamp Hub Pro USB-C Hub for iMacs

Western Digital USB-3 hard drives (4TB~10TB) for back up

Logitech M510 Wireless Mouse

If you would like to see your setup featured on Cult of Mac, send some high-res pictures to info+setups@cultofmac.com. Please provide a detailed list of your equipment. Tell us what you like or dislike about your setup, and fill us in on any special touches or challenges.