Taking the stage at both Sundance and SXSW 2021, “4 Feet High” blends together virtual reality (VR) and traditional episodic television formats to tell the unique story of Juana, a 17-year-old wheelchair user who aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body. Trying to find her place in a new high school, she experiences failure, friendship, fear and politics until she builds her own pride.
Juana’s story is told to audiences through four VR experiences, as well as a traditional six-episode television series.
Buenos Aires-based VFX house Malditomaus helped create the project, which has wowed audiences at festivals throughout 2021. According to Director Maria Belen Poncio, “‘4 Feet High’ is a beautiful mix of live action and animation that tells the story of Juana, a spunky 17-year-old. With this story, we aimed to share a new perspective about disability. We wanted to talk about discovering sexuality and identity in a girl with a disability, for audiences to question what we consider beautiful, and to see diverse bodies on screen.”
The Malditomaus team included Animator Martín López Funes and Colorist Gonzalo Greco. According to Greco, “With Marcos Rostagno, the DP on the series, we set out to create real environments and for the viewer to experience the sensations that the characters are experiencing as closely as possible, using color and creating looks to help narrate those feelings. Also, the decision to use VR to allow for the audience to move into the universe of the character and experience everything firsthand was a huge success.”
Funes used a combination of Fusion Studio and Oculus Rift throughout the post process, relying on Fusion Studio for monitoring, creating slow motion effects, erasing rigs, rebuilding VFX plates, and converting monoscopic VR content to stereoscopic footage. Greco used DaVinci Resolve Studio to grade the project, which required different approaches for the VR and episodic content.
“Color management in the traditional episodes was based on ACES and used a scene-referred workflow to be able to access all the dynamic range and gamut captured by the camera. In the VR chapters, the color management was done in DaVinci YRGB using a display-referred workflow,” explains Greco. “This difference was due to the cameras with which the images were captured, as native gamut, depth and dynamic range are very different in VR than in flat. The native VR files contained a large number of pixels but without great pixel quality; they had a depth of 8 bits, a 4:2:0 color subsampling and a Rec. 709 gamut, so they required a different approach.”
“When grading the VR episodes, I divided my reference monitor in two, with one side for the right eye and one side for the left eye. At times I even graded using the Oculus Quest to be able to have the exact VR reference and give it the final touches,” he continues.
“For ‘4 Feet High,’ one of our essential tools was DaVinci Resolve Studio’s noise reduction, which we used widely in the VR chapters,” adds Greco. “The VR footage also had lots of various animations and masks, so we relied heavily on DaVinci Resolve Studio’s tracking tools.”
Having a strong pipeline of familiar, reliable tools helped Greco navigate the new challenges of grading VR footage.
“I’ve been grading movies and television series with DaVinci Resolve Studio for more than 10 years, and I have always had very good experiences with it. For me as a colorist, it was a challenge to tackle the new world of VR, not only technically but also narratively, so it helped to use a software that I was familiar with and that has the professional tools needed,” he concludes.