On the surface, Marvel’s What If…? appears to be an oddity. Some characters in the animated series are voiced by the same actors who feature in the live action MCU movies and episodes, while others are voiced by new actors who happen to sound similar and somewhat resemble to their live action counterparts. So, what is the source of these disparities in the appearances of well-known Marvel characters? Well, it all boils down to the standard scenario of legal rights.
In the four episodes of What If…?, we’ve seen animated versions of some of Marvel’s most iconic characters in all-new situations. Doctor Strange and Steve Rogers, for example, bear a striking similarity to the actors who have performed the characters on screen, despite the fact that Rogers was voiced by Josh Keaton rather than Chris Evans. Take, for example, Black Widow, whose on-screen image in What If…? does not resemble Scarlett Johannson or Lake Bell, who voices the animated version of the assassin.
Paul Lasaine, the show’s production designer, told ComicBook.com about how he and the team tried to make the What If…? characters seem like viewers would anticipate right up until they were told otherwise by 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.”
Learn more about Marvel’s What if…? here.