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Kevin Margo on the making of Grounded

Blur helped you with resources for making the film. How else did producing parts of the film at Blur help improve it?

A forklift visits Blur Studio and helps actor/animation supervisor Derron Ross levitate

Blur was kind enough to lend some network space and access to the render farm provided I avoid interference with production jobs. Bypassing tech/hardware issues and jumping right into VFX on shots was extremely helpful. That said, the methodologies I chose to execute intentionally avoided sluggish 3d rendering, relying more on projection mapping and compositing leaning solutions.

The freefall sequence was shot on a Sunday in Blur’s parking lot. It was the only place to park a forklift with 75’ of radial clearance and 100’ vertical height in Venice Beach that was free :). Co-director and Blur alum Barrett Meeker was integral to the live action filming. Other Blur co-workers graciously contributed technical guidance at times…Brandon Riza gave me a FumeFX refresher course. Steve Guevara had some cloth sim tips. Colin James introduced me to After Effects/Magic Bullet for grading. Kris Kaufman had a well timed skydiving experience that influenced the direction I took the freefall sequence. Last but not least – Blur animation supervisor and actor Derron Ross lent his time and skills in the astronaut role, and provided many insights and suggestions in the editing stage.

How was the experience of working with musician/composer Ken Andrews?

This experience was one of the most rewarding on Grounded. Ken Andrews (www.kenandrews.com) established a strong fan base and industry acclaim in the mid 90’s band Failure, was a pioneer of the music industry’s digital recording production workflow, and has since established himself in producing/mixing for a variety of high profile artists such as Trent Reznor/NIN, A Perfect Circle, Tenacious D, Beck and others. He co-composed with Brian Reitzell (Lost in Translation) the recent independent film “Shrink” starring Kevin Spacey. He also continues to compose his own music and currently a member of the band Digital Noise Academy (www.digitalnoiseacademy.com/).

So I’ve followed Ken’s career closely since his days in Failure. A rock band with the sensibility of the era, but operating on a higher plane sonically and cinematically. I often find modern rock to be emotionally one dimensional, but Ken’s compositions conveyed a breadth and complexity much greater than his peers. It was these qualities that earned my respect and devoted following. I wasn’t surprised to see him gravitate towards film scoring given his capacity to invoke these varied emotional cues.

Rise sequence before and after VFX and grading

Early in production as I was seeking a composer for Grounded, I reached out to Ken. When I had a solid edit together of the raw footage (minus VFX) I contacted him again. Realizing I was quite serious about this project, he came aboard and spent the following week composing. A true professional…one week later I was listening to an 8 minute Grounded score composed by one of my all time favorite musicians in 5.1 Surround! He used Grounded in similar fashion as I had – the opportunity to do something more experimental, a break from commercial work to explore some ideas. It was a real gift, the opportunity to collaborate with artists from other creative fields whose work I grew up identifying with so strongly.

What things did you learn from making the film?

So much of Grounded was completely new and on every step my brain was a sponge soaking it all up. Scriptwriting, live action directing and filming, producing, editorial, and varied VFX tools were new. It put into perspective how infrequently we fully apply ourselves in our daily lives (at least mine).

Speaking specifically about production…to bring sanity to a daunting task I found that anticipation, planning and organization are imperative regardless of team size/scope. Years of supervision at Blur managing teams of artists subconsciously translated into my approach on Grounded.

I rediscovered the importance of self expression, its power to foster emotional maturation, and the resulting liberation that can have on my direction in life. I learned there’s an appreciative and substantial audience for a film like Grounded despite labels such as “challenging/inaccessible/dense/polarizing/esoteric/ambiguous”. Proactive confrontation isn’t in my nature but I’m highly enjoying the discussion threads online about Grounded! People seem to either love it or hate it with little indifference…and healthy thought-provoking debate arises from that.

You have ample experience in CG production. What differences did you notice between CG and live action filmmaking production?

My experience with CG is a series of regimented/compartmentalized tasks assembly line manner. There’s a sterility to the process that has a tendency to result in coldness, formality, and void of emotion. This can be successfully compensated through the creative process itself, but it’s important to be aware of these facts. Virtual cameras are composed independent of final characters/lighting/animation in a scene, and usually need some reverse engineering to make the composition work with the existing camera moves. While with live action, there is an amazing dynamic tension constantly between camera operator, the scene through the lens, the actors,etc…all influencing the other concurrently. A precarious feeling that’s tough to replicate in CG…so I’d like to explore that more.

Derron Ross in his astronaut role

As a landscape painter, I like the idea of passive response to the scene in front of me. Just by internalizing the scene and translating to canvas is enough mark of the artist for me. As I navigate between these two worlds I’d like to investigate how one can further influence the other. Learn live action lighting/camera tips that better inform CG work. Introduce new technology and methods with an eye for CG integration into the live action arena.

When did you see the film screened for the first time publicly?

I had a small screening for the Blur crew in our screening room the day after I mastered Grounded. That was a much needed release, signifying the end to many months of late nights. Afterwards I went home and slept soundly all weekend.

There were two really memorable public screening experiences. Grounded opened the LA Independent Filmmaker Showcase back in April. They screened the films in 5.1 BluRay HD at the Santa Monica Laemmle Theater…notorious for their indie film lineups, where I saw the inspirational Another Earth a few months prior. The other great screening was at the European Independent Film Festival in Paris. Grounded closed the opening night in a beautiful historic theater in the Montparnasse neighborhood…a gathering place for artists over the years such as Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, Dali and Degas. And the parties at these festivals tend to get out of control…what little I recall of them. :)

Any interesting anecdotes that you’d like to share with readers?

- The spaceship wreckage is a combination of car parts scavenged from a junkyard, old computer motherboards, ventilation ducts, and dry hard insulation spray foam…instant NASA.

- I got a severe case of food poisoning on the last day of shooting our desert scene. The nearest bathroom was 10 miles away. Now you know why the patch of desert grass is so green in that scene.

Many thanks to Kevin Margo for sharing with us his experiences on the making of his first short film. We are eagerly awaiting the next one.

Kevin Margo is a VFX/CG Supervisor at Blur Studio with 7+ years of experience on the job, a list of more than 25 supervised CG projects and a fan of filmmakers like Lynch, Kubrick, Mallick and P.T. Anderson. You can find more information on his work at Kevin Margo’s website.

Related Links:

Watch Grounded on Vimeo
Grounded – official website
Grounded credits list
Kevin Margo’s website
Blur Studio

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Tags: Grounded | Kevin Margo | short film | Blur Studio

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