By Zach Johnson
To put it simply, What If…? is “a love letter to the MCU.”
So says Brad Winderbaum, who serves as an executive producer alongside Kevin Feige, Bryan Andrews, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, and head writer AC Bradley. With Marvel Studios’ first animated series now streaming exclusively on Disney+, Winderbaum talked to D23: The Official Disney Fan Club about the adventures that await our favorite characters. What If…? flips the script on the MCU, reimagining famous events from the films in surprising ways. Not only is it a “love letter to the MCU,” as Winderbaum says, but the series “points to the multiverse—and to the possibilities of our universe moving forward.”
More than a dozen actors from the MCU—including Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Dominic Cooper, Josh Brolin, Michael Douglas, Karen Gillan, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Djimon Hounsou, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael B. Jordan, Natalie Portman, Jeremy Renner, Michael Rooker, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci, and Taika Waititi—lend their voice talents to the series, which is already in production on its second season. Emmy®, Golden Globe®, and Tony Award winner Jeffrey Wright narrates the series as The Watcher, who oversees these vast new realities. “He’s a godlike, omnipotent figure who is larger than life,” Winderbaum says. “The challenge with a character like that is: How do you make him human? How do you make him relatable? He is mysterious, but he’s also kind of dangerous. You want to know more, and you’re hanging on his every word as he invites you into all these stories.”
“The Watcher is the audience,” Winderbaum continues. “This is a being who really, truly loves these characters. He can’t intervene, but just because he’s not an active participant, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love these characters like we, the fans, love these characters.”
What If…? has a distinct illustrative style. The aesthetic was developed by storyboard artist Bryan Andrews in collaboration with Ryan Meinerding, the Head of Visual Development at Marvel Studios. “Both Bryan and Ryan were orbiting the style of J.C. Leyendecker, who was an American illustrator from about 100 years ago,” Winderbaum explains. “It’s a very difficult style to achieve. It’s very painterly. The light spreads in a very unique way. We worked with that style, while also creating our own technique, because it requires a 3D technique to achieve that 2D look.” Winderbaum jokingly refers to it as a “Leynerding style,” as it “has influences from J.C. Leyendecker but is very much Ryan Meinerding. With the incredible background work of our production designer, it creates a very rich, photographic feel in a 2D, comic-like world.”
To say that each episode of What If…? will be filled with references to the MCU is a “huge understatement,” Winderbaum adds. “If you like finding Easter eggs, there are a lot hiding in this. Just the fact that we get to revisit all these places we know from the movies, it’s almost as if we’re entering a memory in some cases. There is a lot of fun stuff to discover!”
Go even further behind the scenes of Marvel Studios’ new series What If…? in the summer 2021 issue of Disney twenty-three, offered exclusively to D23 Gold and Gold Family Members as a benefit of their membership. For more information, click here.