September 26, 2012

'Grounded,' a Beautifully Challenging Sci-Fi Short from Kevin Margo, Plus a VFX Breakdown

The short film format allows a lot more freedom for experimentation than the feature film format (obviously), and it often costs a lot less, though that's definitely not always the case. Some ideas can only sustain 5-10 minutes, and some just want to express a feeling, almost like a dream, where the viewer must interpret the meaning for themselves. That's the case with Kevin Margo's short film Grounded. Rather than try to interpret myself, I'll let him explain:

From the Vimeo description:

One astronaut's journey through space and life ends on a hostile exosolar planet. Grounded is a metaphorical account of the experience, inviting unique interpretation and reflection by the viewer. Themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations are explored against an ethereal backdrop.

He added this after, which may or may add clarification, but I think the story still stands on its own:

Did Grounded inspire you? My dad's life inspired me and his death inspired Grounded. 100% proceeds of this Tip Jar (note vimeo's 15% service fee) goes to the American Cancer Society in memory of Paul Vincent Margo. Or donate yourself to cancer.org/

Most short films are based on the simple idea/punchline routine, but then there are some that venture outward and try to get the audience to find their own interpretations. Metaphorical observations aside, the visual effects are truly breathtaking, and that surely comes from the fact that Kevin is a visual effects/CG supervisor at Blur Studio. He's been doing effects for a number of years, so that certainly contributed to the quality of the effects with what seems like minimal resources. It's always more interesting to me when the genre is used as a storytelling tool rather than a crutch, and to me, the best science fiction does the same.

Links:

[via The Creators Project]

Your Comment

43 Comments

Let's see how long before he lands a major feature. This is just what gets you work nowadays: VFX heavy sci-fi shorts. District nine, anyone?

September 26, 2012

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Jon

True. I remember a few years ago we had 405 The Movie: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FqIeM3blPck

Nice topic for NFS to find out what happens to such examples, btw.

September 26, 2012

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September 26, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Joe, maybe you would like to check out the new blender foundation open movie.
it was shot with sony F65 and all the work, from tracking to color grading to 3D to masks to matte, all done inside blender3D suite.
all the files used in the short movie production will be available to public download too.

http://www.blendernation.com/2012/09/26/tears-of-steel/#utm_source=feedb...

September 27, 2012

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guto novo

Yeah just haven't had a chance to watch it yet.

September 27, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Totally with you on that SFX has little clout in the quality of filmmaking world and will spark a strong career; but what (if you don't mind me asking) exactly is your point with District 9? If you think he's not getting work, not at all the guy's been busy. Box office and Oscar success in your first film will do that.

A better example for your statement (if that's what you were trying to say) might be, The Brothers Stauss who've helmed AVP: Requiem and Skyline.

Still your point is strongly valid.

September 30, 2012

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There are so many VFX in that short (which I'd seen before) I wonder how he thought up will all of them in his script. There were several (I don't know the technical term) "layers" where he must shot different pieces with the same background and lighting. I am not sure how you do that when you are outside. Yes a memorable piece with a variety of meanings yet unfortunately no real ending.

September 26, 2012

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Steve V

I don't think VFX make a good story.

September 26, 2012

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AGREE - the story wasn't there

September 26, 2012

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Tony

This short reminds me of a favorite film: Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey. Cryptic and obscure. The lack of a "bow-tie" ending seems to give it more resonance.

September 26, 2012

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Rob

Worked for me, but it's a short, so what more do ou want?

September 26, 2012

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moebius22

And I doubt they even had a demanding producer over there shoulders. No excuses there. Props for the effects though.

September 28, 2012

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nate

Agreed, like a VFX show reel.

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

sci fi done right. I think its impressive to have a film retain its human quality even when immersed in VFX. That's an accomplishment. Thanks for sharing.

September 26, 2012

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Filip

This film is beautiful and technically accomplished, but I don't believe that its description is accurate.

"Themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations are explored against an ethereal backdrop."

Those themes aren't really 'explored', at best they are merely alluded to or hinted at. The scope is too ambitious and the end result is diffuse and scattered. A pretty looking series of special-effects, a good video resume. Nothing more.

September 26, 2012

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Great visuals... but what was the movie about? :))

September 26, 2012

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Laurel

If you want to see even better smoke and fire VFX watch 'Hell on Wheels' opening
https://vimeo.com/32518308
and breakdown
https://vimeo.com/36215489

September 26, 2012

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Tony

Right, but that's a show with a couple million dollar per episode budget, hardly fair when the effects for this film were done by just a couple people.

September 26, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

still shot on a 7D and I'm sure they use the same tools in post

September 26, 2012

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Tony

Tools are he same but it's different when you have a couple of people working instead of 15 working full time in a resourceful studio.

September 26, 2012

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Marcus

.....and content shot on an Arri Alexa (Hell on Wheels)

September 26, 2012

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Ian

That impressed me far more, Tony. All done with the tools most of us have, and in some cases, less than most of us have.

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

I presented with Jeremy at an AENY meeting... that opening was very guerilla as far as a lot of shooting a lot of those plates. Canon 7D, in a back yard, with his brother if I recall correctly. Then again his software mastery is super expert. I guess all of these things are probably covered in that BTS video!

September 26, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Yes, his software mastery is sick. I would love to be at that level.

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

Beautiful short, atmosphere is great as well. Don't mind so much that the story is so vague, it's an interesting piece on its own.

September 26, 2012

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The Doctor

Nice VFX but no emotional anchor to keep me interested. Pretty visuals do not a great film make.

September 26, 2012

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'emotional anchor'. Ha! How's your script coming?

September 26, 2012

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marklondon

Does the film make you laugh, cry, scare you or even think for that matter? I liked a lot of the visuals but if I don't care about the characters or the situation then the visuals have little meaning. Just felt the short needed more of a story.

September 26, 2012

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Baffled by some of the comments above. Apparently lyrical filmmaking confuses some people.
Much prefer this type of short to the 'one-liner' kind. Nicely done. Would have enjoyed even without the back story. Have tipped.

September 26, 2012

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marklondon

Just as some of us are baffled by yours...

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

Sometimes deep emotion requires participation, introspection, curiosity . . . all things that are no longer required when viewing the summer blockbusters that basically attack your senses with ever increasing (and often trite or even meaningless) spectacle.

One big hope for the coming wave of truly independent films is that more will be asked of the lazy, spoon-fed contemporary audiences. I am sure there is a market that is starving for intelligent conversation, depth of emotion, and open-ended pathways that great stories provide.

Movies, like music and good company are food for the soul. . . The buffet is pretty full of junk food these days.

***Please read the above without a malicious tone attached****

And now a long quote:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” - T. Roosevelt

September 26, 2012

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Granville

Deep emotion happens when there is a human connection between you and I. I relate to you on an emotional level because what you have experienced and are now showing me, touches me in a way that is familiar. Then, I participate, with introspection and curiosity. There are SO many of these common emotions that we all collectively share and we can relate to. The cool thing is, they are just wrapped up in different experiences, which makes it all the more fun to dramatize them in a visual medium, so that you are touched and we connect. Not by the fire, not by the explosion or the smoke or the cool 3D environments, but by our common human experiences. So I wish the "Themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations" were more prevalent and were explored less "against an ethereal backdrop" and more against a human, emotional one.

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

Are you familiar with poetry? I get a sense you're essentially judging poetry as if it were narrative...

September 26, 2012

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Gabe

Yeah I am, and I sometimes feel it can be self-indulgent. My style of filmmaking, and what I enjoy and appreciate in other's who do the same, is one that attempts to establish connections. In some regards, I think that should be the ultimate goal. I am not knocking Kevin Margo's short, its presentation is just not for me. You see, I would never have known that this was inspired by his father's death, had I not read the caption underneath after viewing the short. Now, do we need to know that? Not necessarily, but there is an honesty, a connection (sorry if I keep using that word), that seems missing now that I know this.

Once again, "Themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations" are great, but if they're only there for you, and are not revealed in your work, well then it's a cool, trippy, self indulgent, poetic piece. Leave it at that, and don't bother explaining the themes. Most poetry doesn't explain itself anyway. And in the case of this, it seems a lot of us don't get it. (even though we may have desperately wanted to)

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

sorry, not sure I hit the right reply button, but I was replying to you Gabe.

September 26, 2012

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Jeff

That's fair...I think this is very akin to poetry, it can be very hit or miss for people. If it misses, some people may feel like it's self indulgent or too technical (poetry is the VFX of literature). But if it hits, it can really resonate strongly for some people. It's the same reason a piece of music can do amazing things for one person and leave another completely cold.

September 26, 2012

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Gabe

I'm just a beginner in video... and so far... I recorded only one, "my first one".
It was filled with many technical flaws, but it came from my heart.
And with all that, from my "poor" video creator view, all I can say about this video is MARVELOUS!
Some of people commented this video thinks it lacks ending, story is strange, it's only visual gem... only VFX... but...
This is ONE of the best short movies I have ever seen in my life, and believe me, I saw all kind of stuff in last 40 years.
It's strange...yes, but strange is good, and this one is not just that... it's more than great.
Way to go Kevin... short, but perfectly done, with soul & heart.
Mladen Bozickovic

September 26, 2012

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I always laugh when this site gets into critical appreciation territory. I didn't particularly like Tree of Life but it won at Cannes, go figure. Anyone who gets off his ass and makes something deserves some credit, even if what they make is also ass. Just because I didn't like tree of life doesn't make it a bad film. Far from it. This particular curiosity never set out to be a narrative piece and it's no less valid a piece of filmmaking than a short that does. Films constantly defy our expectations of what they're 'supposed' to be. The best I'd ever hope from a critical audience is that they can divorce their personal taste from a wider critical appreciation of what a filmmaker has accomplished. Sadly 'I don't like it' equals 'It's shit.' If that's how you view things then maybe it's not the film that's shit.

September 27, 2012

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Loved the effects but I feel like he could have communicated his concepts better, maybe? But I didn't feel like I had to understand it to like it. I certainly came away inspired, VFX-wise.

September 29, 2012

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I'm not going to get into the good story/bad story argument, but I will say this: I saw this on vimeo last week and didn't watch it the whole way through. If fact I think I shut it off about halfway through. Sure it's pretty and visually interesting, but I got halfway through and didn't feel like I would miss out on anything if I didn't finish it...

October 1, 2012

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Brynn

There was no story, it just looked good. In my opinion, that does not make a good short. It's sad that these kind of films always seem to win over better stories simply because of the wow factor associated with CGI. I believe it deserves recognition for impressive visuals, but that's not important when it comes to a great short.

October 7, 2012

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Stephen Herron

if one guy, miscellaneously 'lost or abandoned' is in a space suit looking across at another who then turns out to be himself or another version of, cough 2001 wink cough wink nod cough.

great effects showreel, although not feeling a sense of story or transition.

October 19, 2012

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jay

... if one guy, miscellaneously 'lost or abandoned' is in a space suit looking across at another who then turns out to be himself or another version of, cough 2001 wink cough wink nod cough.

great effects showreel, although not feeling a sense of story or transition...

October 19, 2012

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jay