We're just a matter of days away from the debut of Marvel's What If...?, the first animated series to exist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series has already caught fans' attention in a lot of different ways, both for the unique, reality-shifting approach to established franchise canon, and for the distinct art style. A new press brief from Disney dives into all aspects of What If...?, and reveals how the series came to develop its animated style. As some of the series' crew revealed, they did explore the possibility of directly homaging classic Marvel Comics, particularly the work of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
"One of our fist thoughts was to go straight-up Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko," director Bryan Andrews revealed. "We ended up going in another direction, but we all grew up with those classic panels and compositions—it's in our brains—so it comes out here and there."
"The comics were what we'd call our North Star—the characters were born in the comics," Head of visual development and character design Ryan Meinerding echoed. "With the films, we took those icons and added detail so they'd feel as real as possible. Then, we added stylization and idealization for What If…?"
When the series did determine its animation style, they ultimately rooted it in classic American illustration, particularly in the work of J.C. Leyendecker.
"Leyendecker inspired Norman Rockwell," Andrews explained. "Their work included a lot of mood and atmosphere. Disney's Lady and the Tramp was also something we looked at because there's not a lot of harsh line work—it's always beautifully painted."
"Leyendecker was one of the best visual artists in history," Meinerding added. "He illustrated clothing ads, which really resonated. Like him, we're trying to make our characters look as amazing as possible. Combining Leyendecker's idealization of figures and forms with Marvel Studios' Super Hero component was interesting. We wanted to make our characters look like they were monumental sculptures. It all equates to essentially wanting every frame of the show to read as a moving illustration. It's almost painterly—although there are no brushstrokes, the whole thing should end up feeling like a painting."
"What struck me was how limitless animation is," executive producer Brad Winderbaum revealed. "You have to determine your artistic code and set parameters early."
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