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Kevin Margo on the making of Grounded

We interview Kevin Margo, VFX Supervisor at renowned Blur Studio, on the making his first short film "Grounded".

There’s a tendency in some CG artists to step into live action filmmaking at a certain point in their careers. Tomek Baginski and Ruarí Robinson are some early examples. In most of these cases CG is not abandoned, but used to complement and potentiate live action shooting.

Kevin Margo’s making of Grounded is an especially interesting case of the above metamorphosis. Not only because he is CG Supervisor at the paradigmatic Blur Studio, but also due to the kind of film he has produced. If one would expect quality visuals from Blur’s CG Supervisor, Kevin’s Grounded delivers (and excels). But what sets it apart is the content of the film. It’s a highly personal, visceral work, completely different from anything one could expect.

We had the pleasure of talking to Kevin about the experience of making his first short film, which, in his own words, was “one of the most rewarding creative experiences to date”.

A final note: as should be done in film theaters that project films to the general public, a disclaimer is in order: Grounded is not a crowd-pleaser. It’s a film made by a cinephile, to be enjoyed mostly by cinephiles (as well as those who watch with an open mind). Much of the public that expects an unfolding narrative and a nicely served, digestible dish will be left with a question mark.

The Interview

Kevin Margo shooting one of the scenes of the film

Being a CG supervisor, what prompted you to test the waters of live action filmmaking?

The primary reason Grounded was created came from the desire for self expression. As a VFX/CG supervisor I’m in a position to exert a fair amount of freedom and influence on the look of the resulting project. The content of a typical Blur project is always engaging. It provides great opportunities to champion new workflows and methods enabling higher quality results. It’s an outlet to explore many avenues and curiosities that might not necessarily be directly applicable to production, but posits what could be in the future. It drives me to become a better leader and create an environment of ideas and potential that hopefully helps the team to excel.

But as undeniably awesome and challenging as all that is, feeling humbled and rewarded on a daily basis…in the end it’s a job, applying a craft towards a product, somebody else’s product that has marketable expectations and often limiting constraints. There are directors, clients, consumers all influencing the end result. So…after many years at Blur performing essentially the same duties I needed to find a creative outlet providing the immediacy and intimacy of creation that didn’t require scores of artists to execute.

An all CG short film of high quality likely would’ve taken several years to do with the limited resources/help Grounded had. Enter the Canon 5D Mark II. Initially I picked up this camera to rediscover my love of photography and composition, as motivation to get out of Los Angeles on weekends and explore California. Soon enough I was tinkering with the video mode…and got hooked. Here was the ability to create minutes/hours of attractive footage myself when contrasted against the painstaking expense and time required for every frame of animation. It was a liberating discovery. And to that footage was the potential of applying my CG skill set honed over the years in a timely conservative yet impactful manner to arrive at something unique and personal. My father had passed away a few years prior and I had a bunch of ideas revolving around that experience, so here was a cathartic way to explore all of the above ideas and discoveries.

Why did you choose a SciFi setting for the story?

Like many in the industry, SciFi content influenced my maturing artistic direction and sensibility. H.R Giger’s stamp on the Alien films, and Kubrick’s stunning Space Odyssey resonated with me at an early age. Recently films like Moon, Another Earth, Tree of Life, and Melancholia have influenced me greatly, not only for the scifi/cosmic backdrop but also the profound themes and concepts explored. Contrasting the character’s psyche, struggles and introspection against the overwhelming grandness and indifference of the universe makes for a great dynamic.

Equally influential in Grounded was my recent investigations into physics, quantum mechanics, and string theory as much as time and brain capacity provide for. Audio books by Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Leonard Susskind were on rotation nights and weekends as I created Grounded. As an artist you’re invited to think outside the box, free of constraints, rules, limitations. The world of physics is one of experiments and predictable results yielding definitives. That appealed to my technical process oriented mind. But it’s also a field requiring enormous imagination and creativity, seeking new insights/understanding into the world around us.

It’s exploring the edge of knowledge. “To encounter frustration means you’re on the threshold of discovery” – a quote that I think resonates equally true in science and art. All this stems from a genuine curiosity about the world, seeking deeper meaning and comprehension to daily experience.

Grounded’s opening sequence: physics, astronomy and SciFi influences permeate the film

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