Marvel’s What If…? is the latest Marvel Studios TV series in the long-running franchise and it is slated to premiere on 11 August 2021 exclusively on Disney+ Hotstar Malaysia.
Marvel’s What If…? features fan-favourite characters, including Peggy Carter, T’Challa, Doctor Strange, Killmonger, Thor and more. The new series, directed by Bryan Andrews with AC Bradley as head writer and Brad Winderbaum as an executive producer, explores hypothetical stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It focuses on non-canonical stories like what happens if Peggy Carter became Captain Britain and if T’Challa/Black Panther was abducted by the Ravagers instead of Peter Quill/Star-Lord.
The voice cast includes Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Josh Brolin (Thanos), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and a lot more.
Courtesy of Disney+ Hotstar Malaysia, we were lucky enough to be the only Malaysian media to participate in a roundtable interview with Marvel’s What If…? Executive Producer Brad Winderbaum, Head Writer AC Bradley, and Director Bryan Andrews. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Why is now the right time for the debut of Marvel’s What If…?
Brad Winderbaum: Now is the right time for What If…? because we finally had enough stories behind us to be able to riff on them, change them and move the pieces around, as well as play with the stories that we have told in the past in brand new ways.
In terms of being animated, we really wanted to explore the infinity of the Multiverse and the only way to do that is to be unbounded and animation as a medium is inherently unbounded. If you can see it, you can do it. That’s how What If…? became our first animated project.
What If…?, as an idea, had come up over the years, here and there, but it never felt like we had enough work to reference. Comic books had 30, 40, 50, 60 years of comics before them to spin out into new adventures, but on the other side of the Infinity Saga, with the opportunity that Disney+ gave us to make shows, it just sparked.
Kevin Feige and I, once we started talking about it, it all came together very quickly because it was just such an inspiring idea. [It was] so much fun to revisit the work that the studio had done in the past and remix it for new audiences.
I met with Bryan almost three years ago, so from concept to being a fully animated show took three years. The good news is that I think that it’s a concept that many people find inspiring. From a creative perspective, all of my partners on the show needed very little to get their engines going. The idea is so exciting to go back into the sandbox and play with these old toys in new ways that were just inspiring to watch.
Bryan Andrews: I think there could be a variety of reasons, but one that I think is that it is modern mythology. We all need what we might think are considered to be like a hero or someone or something to look up to; to help us either be better people or live vicariously through them. Since ancient times, every culture has its epic legendary beings and in this day and age, Marvel seems to be that thing regardless of culture or where you come from.
The world can look at them and go, yeah, these guys are fun. This is cool. Let’s do more of this. It’s a great tool to teach about being good and being better and trying to help those who are less fortunate, to aspire higher. The world needs that always, so I think it will always be a thing.
Can you tell us more about how Marvel’s What If…? works as an anthology series?
A.C. Bradley: When it came to creating the first 10 episodes of season one, ironically the first question was not What If…? The first question was let’s take all these heroes and figure out what makes them tick. Let’s find the heart behind the hero. The hero behind the shield, so to speak, and explore that, because, at the end of the day, the reason we love these movies is that we feel a connection to these characters.
We feel like they’re marrying our stories so when it came to our first episode, Peggy Carter. It wasn’t so much about how she got the Super Soldier serum, but what story we wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the story about a woman who stays in the room. What happens when a woman stays in the room? Well, the world changes. What happens when Peggy Carter shows her worth? Well, you guys will see what happens on 11 August 2021.
In each story, we wanted to play in genre and tone. As a writer, it was great to be able to stretch my talents and abilities and to make every episode stand-alone, both story-wise and we wanted everything to feel visually different. Everything is edited differently, the sound is different.
We want people to drop in during each of these episodes and feel like they’re watching one short Marvel movie. We have a spy thriller, we have a party episode, there’s comedy, there’s horror, there’s a mystery, a heist episode. It was a real treat to be able to play around with different genres. and tones and styles.
Was it the plan to go for 3D CGI animation from the beginning or did you ever consider 2D animation?
Brad Winderbaum: We went into the process with no rule book. Bryan just had a number of references he brought in, like early 20th-century illustration and art. Our visual department head and character designer Ryan Meinerding was playing with different styles of illustration. Some were flat, some were 3D. We knew that we wanted to play with light, lensing and atmosphere. What we ultimately achieved is something that doesn’t emulate anything else.
There’s nothing that we were pointing at, and you know, let’s make it look like that. It was born out of the collaboration of these creative minds to create a style that is unique that lives on its own terms.
Bryan Andrews: We did actually consider 2D animation. I love it, and I think it would’ve been great to do it in 2D. It would’ve been very challenging because it’s a big and complicated show so we would need an army of exceptional draftspeople to pull it off. As a result, we couldn’t find that because there’s a lot of studios making a lot of projects at the time and we just couldn’t find them or they just couldn’t do it for what we’re asking.
So, we actually pivoted into the 3D look with a heavy emphasis on making it look like 2D. That’s what we do, we want this illustrative, almost painterly look harkening to old-school illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker, American illustrators. We’re trying to achieve that and 3D for 2D would help us because we just couldn’t find a studio that was ready or able. They’re all making other stuff, darn it.
Will Marvel’s What If…? tie into the live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Brad Winderbaum: If you go back and look at the history of the What If…? comics, you’ll see that a lot of them found their way into the main continuity. We’re going into this eyes open and knowing that in the MCU, things ricochet, they bounce around, they tend to hit each other often.
The potential is there for characters from What If…? to appear in live-action, I would say.
Most of the characters revealed so far in What If…? have been variants of existing MCU characters. Can we expect the introduction of never-before-seen characters in What If…? that we haven’t seen in the MCU?
Brad Winderbaum: The potential is there, but every idea is based on something that precedes it from the MCU. So, for example, I don’t think we would ever do an episode about a character that hasn’t appeared in one of the movies or shows yet.
However, there’s always a chance we could create new characters out of thin air. I feel like that’s the best way to tell any particular story.
Bryan Andrews: We basically had operating instructions from Kevin Feige. Basically, we can’t introduce anyone or any character that hasn’t already been introduced in an MCU movie. You won’t be seeing, like, some random person pop up from the comics or other franchises that we hadn’t seen already in MCU proper.
We were thinking of some ideas, like yeah, this that and Feige was like no, no, no, no, let’s just dial it back a little bit and maybe in the future we can expand beyond. But yeah, the only surprises we get to pull are from characters that have already been realized in the MCU.
Were there any rules or limitations about what you could or couldn’t do?
Brad Winderbaum: Yeah, there were only a few rules. It had to be based on a project that people had already seen. The only real rules were the ones we put on ourselves and that was always about character. Are we choosing stories that are exciting and challenges these characters and make them fully realized individuals?
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Brad Winderbaum: I’ve always been a live-action producer, so this is my first animated project. I was a real novice when the process started and it seems like I’ve grown to really passionately feel like it’s an incredible art form to tell stories and I’m very much looking forward to making more animated projects for the studio.
In terms of challenges, the biggest difference between live-action and animation is how early you need to lock the story. In live-action, you’ll create your script and your animatics and go into productions with the intention to hit those marks, but chaos takes over, things can change and you’ll need to improvise the whole time, and you’ll end up in editorial, where you’ll have to chance to build something from the ground up at that point in the process with the tools and elements that you actually end up having.
In animation, it works differently. You actually need to lock your story early because that is the thing that’s going into production and become fully-realised animated shots. So being able to make those decisions on the early side without the safety net of changing it in the late stages of post=production was the biggest challenge.
Do you have any favourite episodes from the first season that you enjoyed the most?
Brad Winderbaum: I can’t really pick a favourite. I love them all for different reasons. I will say that I’m really excited for people to see that zombie episode. That is a wild ride.
A.C Bradley: I have a few favourites. The Doctor Strange episode was a very special one to me for writing and going into it, I was quite scared because it features some very heavy themes. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it deals with flaws and tragedy.
Once I sat down and started working on it, it was actually a very rewarding experience because we got to play around with why does loss hurt so much and because it all comes down to love. Only the things we love can hurt us. This is the most human episode of the lot but it also has some beautiful imagery, some amazing action and hopefully a few good twists.
Bryan Andrews: Definitely, the Doctor Strange episode, that was a great one too. It totally goes in a direction that the other episodes don’t and I think animation should go there and do that more often. This became the perfect vehicle to help flex some of those muscles. That was definitely special.
But then again, I still loved Peggy Carter. Some good old pulpy action with a message behind it; feminism, punching Nazis in the face. Who knew that it would still be relevant today? You know, in all aspects. It’s crazy. So, you know, there’s a lot of favourites that fans are going to have a hard time choosing which their favourites are.
Could you tell us a bit about how it was like to work with the late Chadwick Boseman?
Brad Winderbaum: It was a privilege to work with him. He’s such an incredible actor. He really delivered an incredible performance as the various versions of T’challa that he played over the course of the season. When we were all together during the sound mixing watching him through, it was very emotional because we just hope that we’re honouring him and the performance that he gave in the finished product. Yeah, it’s just so inspiring to hear his voice as T’challa in the series.
What’s the future of animation for the MCU? Are you planning more animated series or even animated movies in the future?
Brad Winderbaum: Yes, we have plans now because of What If…? to make more animated shows; all these shows that require animation as a medium and that can only exist in this art form. Each exists on its own term and hopefully explore unexpected facets of the MCU.
What were some of the inspirations behind the episodes in Marvel’s What If…?
A.C. Bradley: Sometimes we would come up with movies that were kind of like touchstones. Bryan earlier talked about how with Captain Carter, we played a lot with 1940s serials and old war movies. With the T’challa episode (Marvel’s What If…? Episode 2), I’m a big fan of Ocean’s Eleven. Come on, you can’t get much better than Brad Pitt and George Clooney hanging out. So, we would kind of pick a movie to be a little bit of a shorthand, and that was mostly for the designers, storyboard artists and the editors.
We knew we were getting to pretty quickly, but from there, we would go in all sorts of directions. One, how do we make this unique? How could we make this Marvel? What about this makes this a Marvel movie? And that was kind of the fun.
Were there any episodes or ideas you had to scrap for whatever reasons?
A.C. Bradley: I pitched an entire episode. It took me a couple of days to break it. I was very excited about it. I went to Bryan and was like, here we go, this is what happens, do you think Kevin Feige would approve? He went, oh, yeah, Kevin would love that, that’s half the plot of Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3.
I was like, you’re kidding, and he went, nope, good job, you guessed it. I was like getting ready to go home and crack open a beer and go, I’ll go back to the board tomorrow. So, that one I can’t do because the amazing James Gunn is already going to do it.
Stay tuned for our review of Marvel’s What If…? ahead of the series premiere on 11 August 2021 exclusively on Disney+ Hotstar Malaysia. In the meantime, check out the trailer below: