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

09.26.12 @ 2:09AM Tags : , ,

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

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.


[via The Creators Project]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 46 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?

  • 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.

  • I don’t think VFX make a good story.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Great visuals… but what was the movie about? :))

  • If you want to see even better smoke and fire VFX watch ‘Hell on Wheels’ opening
    and breakdown

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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!

  • 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.

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

    • ‘emotional anchor’. Ha! How’s your script coming?

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    • 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.

      • Are you familiar with poetry? I get a sense you’re essentially judging poetry as if it were narrative…

  • 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)

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

    • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • Stephen Herron on 10.7.12 @ 3:00PM

    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.

  • 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.

  • … 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…