'What if ...?': How is the animation process of the Marvel Studios series

what if finale episode
What if...? Final Episode, Disney+, Marvel

Throughout nine episodes we have traveled, hand in hand with the Vigilante, different alternative universes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 'What would happen if ...?'. The House of Ideas opted for the animation to take us on this psychedelic journey in which characters that we already know very well showed other faces, other roles, new powers and lived adventures in which a small change completely modified their experience. 

For animation, Marvel has partnered with several professional studios that have paid tribute to a comic aesthetic to remind them once again of where this vast multiverse in which everything is possible comes from. But how has the process of creating the series been? Has Marvel been on top of every frame as it is with its movies? We had the opportunity to speak with Ángel "Tote" González, animation director of the eighth episode of the series, 'What would happen if ... Ultron won?', Who has detailed us how to work together with the entertainment giant.

The man from Madrid is part of the Stellar Creative Lab team, an animation studio based in Vancouver. In his curriculum, we can find titles like the Spanish 'Planet 51' and blockbusters like 'Hotel Transilvania 2', 'Angry Birds. The movie 'or' Storks'. With Marvel, he had already worked in the animation department of 'Guardians of the Galaxy. In the eighth episode of the series, he and his team have taken care of the first eight minutes, in which we see a post-apocalyptic scenario with Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton facing an army of Ultrons. As he tells us, they have taken charge of "the entire process" of animation for those first minutes, "from the department of art, modeling, textures, rigging, animation, lighting and the final result". The ultimate goal was "to bring the quality of the animation to what Marvel asks for, adapt the style and bring the whole team into the Marvel style."

Even though Marvel is very controlling with its titles, González assures that "there is creative freedom as long as you are in style" and explains how they came to it: "Before starting anything, we always meet with the director, we discuss what vision do you have, what do you expect of us, what do you expect from this sequence ... From there we teach you the first pass without ending the general idea of ​​the animation style and there is always a tug of war: 'in this, you have passed, lower a bit here, give it a go ... '. There is always very good management work behind it and the house of cards is being built little by little, it is not that you get to the top and they throw it at you to start from scratch. 3D is very expensive and time-consuming. "


The main challenge of his team has been, precisely, to adapt his way of working to the style that Marvel asks for: "At first you go slower because you are further away from that style. Once you get into the style that Marvel wants and you get the hang of it. you get used to going that way and everything starts to go much more fluid and there are fewer and fewer retakes, fewer shots to redo. You get to know the director more and you know what he wants and you fine-tune much better. 


" Along the way they have always had constant feedback: "We organize weekly workshops with his animation supervision where he explains what is working for him and what is not. He even gave a mini masterclass to the animators from how to launch the shield to what he expects from the fights, details such as punching how the energy is transmitted from the fist to the face. You may want a contact frame or the fist has passed the face. The blurring effect on the screen and the reaction of the face is what that works and is the style that Marvel is looking for because in real action they do mark their fist to explain what is happening in that action, "he explains. 


Speaking of real action, they have also had to study Scarlett Johansson and the others in depth so that the animated characters were as faithful to their versions of flesh and blood, especially in the movement: "We have drenched ourselves with references from the actors Real a lot. Marvel in that aspect shared a huge library with us. It's nice because you have access to a lot of very good reference material but at the same time, the complexity of getting it is very high. It has not been easy but it has been very important to capture that Black Widow is who she is, for example. "


He also says that although his work on 'What if ...?' is only part of the process, they have been able to adapt their tools to facilitate the more technical and tedious part: "Redoing the internal controls of the characters as we wanted has been key to wanting to push the silhouettes and poses of the characters. In the end when If you work with material from another studio, it may be worth it or you may not be as comfortable as if you did it the way you like. 


That has been a challenge from which we emerged victorious because it gave us a lot of freedom to redo it and we have had much more authority than we have. at first I thought we were going to have it. Only on the face do we have 150 controls to be able to create an expression. It's scary but at the same time you have a lot of control and as soon as you start building expression libraries that speed up the work a lot ".


Advantages of working with someone else's style

The bottom line is that, in the words of González, "it is a pleasure to work for Marvel" so they would be delighted to return in the second season: "Everything that comes is welcome. We have taken care to try to do our best work. and to put the greatest passion in it so that it looks the best it can be and that the greatest number of people like it ", and in that sense it sees the mission accomplished. 


And if the style has been your team's greatest challenge, would you have preferred to be able to develop your own aesthetic as you have been able to do in each episode of 'Star Wars: Visions'? "It's a good question. It is very rewarding when you develop your own style but you also learn a lot when you have to adapt to the style of others. You learn a lot and it enriches you personally much more, it can only give you better tools for when you do your own style."

The entire first season of 'What If ...?' is available now on Disney + and the second season is in development.

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