DEALING WITH THOSE ‘WHAT IF’ QUESTIONS FOR MARVEL’S ANIMATED WHAT IF…? SERIES
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- December 20, 2021
When American physicist Hugh Everett III proposed in 1954 that quantum effects cause the universe to constantly split, in essence creating a multiverse, he was scorned by his colleagues; however, the concept was embraced by the comic book industry which saw unlimited narrative possibilities, as characters never died and there was always another variation of them waiting on the alternative-dimensional sidelines to replace them.
1977 Marvel Comics established the What If…? series with Spider-Man joining the Fantastic Four in the debut issue. Writer and producer A.C. Bradley (Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia) has expanded the franchise into an animated anthology for Disney+ with the debut season consisting of nine episodes revolving around Peggy Carter becoming a super-soldier, T’Challa being the subject of an alien abduction, a sociopathic and revengeful Hank Pym, Doctor Strange literally confronting his dark side, superheroes becoming zombies, Ultron giving birth to Vision, and Uatu the Watcher having to decide whether to become an active participant.
“We try to be specific with the way the characters move, fight, act, and the filmmaking of it. Because like the rest of the MCU, we’re visiting a whole variety of genres, tones and styles of movies. The film language itself is extremely specific from episode to episode and from story to story; that’s what we’re trying to nail in the storyboard process.”
—Stephan Franck, Animation Supervisor
“What we are trying to do differently from the live action is to play up the concepts of silhouettes. We’re constantly making sure that a character or object or environment is placed where you can see it. We’ll put atmosphere behind a character, make them darker and put a rim light on them. We’re always trying to push stuff to get it to look cooler or more dynamic.”
—Paul Lasaine, Production Designer
Collaborating on the world-building with Bradley and director Bryan Andrews was Production Designer Paul Lasaine (The Boxtrolls). “There is a responsibility to pay tribute to the movies, which is cool and hard,” states Lasaine. “What we are trying to do differently from the live action is to play up the concepts of silhouettes. We’re constantly making sure that a character or object or environment is placed where you can see it. We’ll put atmosphere behind a character, make them darker and put a rim light on them. We’re always trying to push stuff to get it to look cooler or more dynamic. The rebirth lab set in Captain America: The First Avenger was lit differently from how we did it in Episode 101. We needed to simplify things down because we wanted it to have an illustrative style; that alone stating its own rules. We’re going to break things into three layers. There’s the railing in the front, the pod, and the back wall with all of the computers. How are we going to see all of those layers? We put a layer of atmosphere behind the pod.
“The ability to create collectively a unified performance is one of the defining traits of animation. The comics haveervisor Stephan Franck (The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow). a special kind of magic in terms of their power, energy and excitement; there’s something mad and unique about them. All of our stories are born in the MCU when it comes to revisiting certain moments where life turned out a bit differently for a character. The third element is the classic American illustrator vibe of people like J.C. Leyendecker who have an elegant and broad- shaped language. The combination of these three things helped us to come up with a presentation that felt new and exciting on the outside just as much as the stories were in the inside.” What If…? combines 2D and 3D animation. “We were originally going to try to do the whole thing in 2D, but for a number reasons it did not work,” reveals Lasaine. “Our characters are in 3D, so we will build these low- poly proxy sets for most things. Those will get turned into line drawings which then go to the background painting department.”