Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had the MCU expanding in ways never before seen. Now, not only would fans have a handful of movies to obsess over, but they'd also have over a dozen new streaming shows as well. But those new series' weren't just live-action. No, the studio also dipped its toe into animation for the first time, with What If...? being its first official foray into that space.
The show tells various stories of alternate timelines where the events of the MCU played out vastly different (with many of them being different in a variety of ways). While the show doesn't tend to rank very high on most people's favorites, it was undoubtedly a bold and creative deviation for Marvel Studios.
While there are many aspects of the show fans have taken issue with since its debut, the one which pops up the most is regarding its animation. Many simply thought the chosen style didn't look all that great, with some claiming it looked choppy and rushed.
Now, it's been revealed that the show could have looked entirely different, and not just as a whole—but for each individual episode.
What If... What If...? Had More Money
During the “Marvel Studios’ Journey Into Imagination,” panel at October's LightBox Expo in Pasadena, California, via Laughing Place, What If...? director Bryan Andrews talked about his work on the Marvel Studios animated show while revealing some tantalizing new information.
One of the first things Andrew let slip was how the show was originally going to give each episode of the show its own distinct animation style. Sadly, that part of the show's vision had to be scrapped due to budget constraints.
The visual language that did end up sticking with their budget "took some queues from film noire," and had "dimly lit sets" in order to make the process easier on the animators:
Bryan looked to one of his sources of artistic inspiration – J.C. Leyendecker, a predecessor of Norman Rockwell at The Saturday Evening Post. It turned out that Ryan Meinerding, head of visual development for Marvel Studios, was also a big Leyendecker fan and, with a style to emulate in mind, the series moved further into development. For the sake of both time and budget, the visual language of the series also took some queues from film noire, with dimly lit sets to ease the burden on background artists and set designers.
While talking about both his and Meinerding's love of Marvel Comics and anthology shows in general, the director revealed some concepts fans haven't seen on the show yet. They include situations such as "Black Panther with the Eye of Agamotto" and "Loki [being] worthy enough to wield Mjolnir:"
With a love of both Marvel Comics and anthology shows like The Twilight Zone, Bryan quickly got to work creating 30 concepts for the series, including some that have yet to be tackled (Black Panther with the Eye of Agamoto, Loki worthy enough to wield Mjolnir, and Steve Rogers as the Winter Soldier were examples given).
According to Andrews, one of his highlights working on the show was collaborating with the late Chadwick Boseman:
"One of the highlights of working on What If…? for Bryan has been working with the A-List stars from the MCU. Chadwick Boseman was the first MCU actor to sign on for the series, reprising his role as T’Challah in an episode that has the young prince of Wakanda being abducted by aliens and becoming Star Lord instead of Peter Quill. As a trained actor, Chadwick brought a level of professionalism to the recording sessions that blew Bryan away, even improvising some lines that made T’Challah more humorous than he could be with the weight of being king on his shoulders."
According to the Andrews, the star had so much fun with his character that he even went to Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to try and put some more funny moments in the sequel:
"Chadwick had such a good time playing this version of T’Challah that he reportedly met with Ryan Coogler about giving him more comedy moments in the planned sequel to Black Panther before his prognosis took a fast turn. Bryan also talked about his astonishment at recording Cate Blanchett as Hela for an upcoming episode in Season 2, promising that it will be Hela as you’ve never seen her before."
The director also revealed that audiences will be seeing "a 1988 iteration of The Avengers:"
A teaser for Season 2 of What If…? was shown at San Diego Comic-Con and while Bryan wasn’t able to show it at LightBox Expo, he did give us some teases of what to expect. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to share,” he laughed after mentioning a 1988 iteration of The Avengers, teasing that it’s exciting to see who would be on that team. In addition to an episode with Hela, he also said that the season premiere picks up right where the Season 1 finale left off.
The Tantalizing What If Scenario
The idea of each story having its own visual style is a fantastic one that would've been perfect for the show's concept.
Each episode's alternate timeline would have been accentuated by having drastically different animation styles. For example, the zombie episode could have been gore-focused like Invincible, and something like Party Thor's story could have been a zany, bright, vibrant, and in-your-face kind of art—potentially even close to Into the Spider-Verse.
It would have likely been very reminiscent of Netfix's Love, Death, and Robots, which is an anthology series of various animated shorts. Each installment has an entirely different style and creative team.
This isn't the first time budget constraints have adjusted the show's vision. Season one had an episode cut entirely and moved over to the second season. Its sophomore run was also meant to have more installments than it ended up getting.
Either way, despite knowing what could have been, hopefully, the creatives behind the scenes can still offer up some more fun alternate worlds. Fingers crossed that they even make some improvements this time around.
What If...? season one is now streaming on Disney+, while Season 2 is expected to debut sometime in early 2023.