Marvel’s What If…? is something of a peculiarity when you look at it on the surface. The animated show has some characters voiced by the same actors who appear in the live action MCU movies and shows, some voiced by new actors that look like their live action counterparts and then there are those who look like completely different characters. So what has caused this range of differences in the appearance of the well-known Marvel characters? Well, it essentially comes down to that usually story of “legal stuff.”
In the four episodes of What If…? we have seen animated versions of some of Marvel’s greatest heroes in brand new scenarios, but if you look at the likes of Doctor Strange and Steve Rogers, they both have a resemblance to the actors who have played the characters on screen, even though Rogers was voiced by Josh Keaton and not Chris Evans. If however you take Black Widow as an example, her on screen appearance in What If…? doesn’t look like Scarlett Johannson or Lake Bell, who actually voices the animated version of the assassin.
Paul Lasaine, production designer on the show, spoke to ComicBook.com about how he and the team attempted to make the What If…? characters look like people would expect right up to the point they were told otherwise by the Disney lawyers.
“I can lie and tell you that stuff is on purpose, or I can tell you the truth and tell you that usually those things are legal issues,” Lasaine said. “There are characters who we are allowed to take their likenesses, because it’s not just a character’s likeness. It’s an actor, it’s a human being’s likeness, and there are legalities. I don’t even know how far up chain that goes, but there are definitely some characters we were told, ‘Nah, you can’t have their likeness. You got to back off a little bit.’ Some, we were told, ‘You need to make them look more like it.'”
The designer went on to praise character designer Ryan Meindering, who was not only responsible for creating the look of the What If…? characters but also was responsible for the live action versions we have come to know and love.
“I mean, we could make them look exactly like these characters if we wanted to,” Lasaine said. “I mean, Ryan Meinerding is our character designer. He designed most of the MCU characters to begin with anyway. So there’s not one person on the planet that would be able to hit these likenesses better than that guy. And if anything doesn’t look like them, it’s because he was told not to. And that is usually the reason, is because we’re just not allowed to.”
While Marvel’s What If…? seems like a little flight of fancy compared to the other Marvel properties, there have been numerous hints that the series might not be as disjointed from the MCU‘s main storyline as it seems, especially with the Multiverse possibilities now coming into play. The first four episodes are available now on Disney+, with new episodes releasing every week.