Alongside the impressive theatrical debut for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel Studios is keeping up its successful run with the MCU's first-ever animated project What If...?.
Looking at alternate versions of the stories MCU fans know and love, this series is providing an entirely new form of storytelling that evokes nearly every possible emotion in each of its episodes.
Centered on characters from all three phases of the Infinity Saga, the first four episodes have had the opportunity to feature the MCU's top talent (along with a few voiceover newcomers) as the show looks at alternate realities in the multiverse.
Some of these realities have been more straight-forward, such as Hayley Atwell's Captain Carter living through most of Steve Rogers' journey in Captain America: The First Avenger. Others have been a little more wild, such as Marvel delivering one of its darkest pieces of content ever as Doctor Strange did literally anything in his power to try to save Christine Palmer's life.
Even with five more unique stories coming to the streaming service over the next few weeks, fans are already theorizing what Marvel has planned for What If...? Season 2, which Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has discussed on numerous occasions.
The Direct recently spoke with production designer Paul Lasaine, who revealed that 2021’s Black Widow is confirmed to be explored in an episode of Season 2 of What If…?. Now, The Direct has even more details from our chat with Lasaine on Season 2's development process and what to expect next season.
New Stories In What If…? Season 2
In an exclusive interview with The Direct, What If…? production designer Paul Lasaine teased what fans could look forward to in the show’s second season.
While he didn’t reveal any specific projects, Lasaine teased that "some" Season 2 characters will be based on Phase 4 movie roles before hinting at “literally brand new” elements in the next batch of episodes:
“Some of the new movies that are coming out, there are some characters [in Season 2] that are based on that. And then there's some that are brand new, like... literally brand new.”
Speaking on his work for Season 1, Lasaine commented on how he and his team had “a ton of reference” for what to put on screen in certain episodes of What If...? However, not everything in the first nine episodes had that kind of reference to use for development:
“I wouldn’t say on a general level that there’s location that’s more or less difficult. There’s some that are more difficult because we didn’t have anything to work from. A lot of these shows that are based on the MCU, we have a ton of reference.”
Lasaine specifically touched on Yondu’s spaceship in Episode 2, for which the team “just got the plans from the actual set build.” These designs were part of a “gigantic archive” of designs that came in handy for the animated take on the MCU:
“Yondu’s ship in Episode 2, called the Ecclector, we have the flight deck of the Ecclector. We just got the plans from the actual set build, and we based all of our designs on that, that was easy. And we have a lot of that, we have a gigantic archive. And of course, we have the movies, but we also have the set designs, and we have the concept art that was done for the original movies. Those are the ones that it's really helpful, obviously, to have that.”
Since this show is based on the Infinity Saga, Lasaine spoke about feeling “a responsibility that (the team has) to be as consistent with” the designs for What If…? as possible. However, he explained that the process includes a mix of what fans know and new aspects to this different universe working together:
"I think there’s a responsibility that we have to be as consistent with that as possible, because the fans are gonna know, ‘Hey, the Ecclector actually had four seats in the flight deck, not three!’ We get that, but we also do change stuff to fit our world too because, let’s face it, every one of our episodes is a new universe, so we use that as a way to kind of cheat when we can. But there’s a lot of new sets too, and it’s not that they’re difficult, they’re just more time-consuming now that we don’t have any reference."
In terms of locations that were somewhat challenging to transfer from live-action to animation, Lasaine teased some technical details from the series' fourth episode. He explained how the team developed "this gigantic room (with) all of these columns" that could be developed in a 360-degree landscape and could be adapted to any angle needed:
"There are some complex things just technically, like, we’ve got one location in an episode that you might not have seen yet. There’s one set where there’s this gigantic room and there’s all of these columns, and we realized that with the camera in multiple positions, to try to create this room from all these different camera positions was just gonna be insanity [...] And it's not that it’s impossible, it’s just time-consuming. So we said ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s just make one big painting that is like a 360 and then have some moving columns that we can place wherever we want so they’re cool compositions depending on what you want the shot to be.' That made things a whole lot easier. There’s technical things that happen all the time, but that’s no different than normal."
Lasaine also hinted that there were techniques that the team wanted to use on What If...? that looked slightly too similar to projects that haven't yet released within Phase 4. Hiding any spoilers, Lasaine revealed that the producers blocked an "interesting camera effect" that was going to be used "on this other movie which isn’t coming out yet for another year or two," although it was a rare occurrence:
"There was one thing, and this is a Season 2 thing, and this will not be a spoiler, but we wanted to do this cool effect in this one place, and it was really a cool, interesting camera effect. And the producers came back and said ‘Well, actually, we’re gonna be doing that on this other movie which isn’t coming out yet for another year or two, so can you come up with a different effect?’
‘Ok, yeah, sure, we can do that.’ It doesn’t happen that often, again because we are primarily basing…every one of these episodes, for the most part, is based on these existing movies, even if it’s a mash-up. You know, our Episode 2 was Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, so we know what that pretty much entails, and we don’t go too far off field."
Phase 4 Coming To Animation Soon
It seems only logical that Phase 4 will have plenty of representation in Season 2 of What If...? Lasaine's comments only further cement this as truth, leading fans to theorize about exactly which new movies and stories will come into play.
Black Widow is already confirmed to get the What If...? treatment in Season 2, although Phase 4 also boasts thrilling movies with new characters such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. Other films further out in development like Fantastic Four could be in consideration as well, but an idea like that will probably be explored later on down the road since most of Season 2 has already been fleshed out.
No matter what specific episodes push Season 2 of What If...? forward, Marvel Studios has its pick of the litter with new stories and heroes to animate for the streaming world.
The first four episodes of What If...? are available to stream on Disney+.