Nail the unique and stylized animation of “What if …?” “

Long since 1991, when he worked as an assistant host on the presentation of Steven Spielberg An american tail, Stephan Franck put his considerable artistic talents at the service of the animation world. Among his many well-known projects, he has served as a supervising animator and lead animator on The iron giant and Osmosis Jones, respectively, and more recently worked as an artist on landmark films like Despicable Me, How to train your dragon, Ralph’s wreck, and the Oscar winner Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Clearly, however, helping bring the first animated Spidey to the big screen was just the start for Franck. In his final incarnation as Animation Supervisor for Marvel Studios’ very first animated series What if…? – which surprisingly reinvents famous events from the Marvel films – he had the opportunity to bring highly stylized life to Black Panther, Iron Man, Captain America, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Dr. Strange and dozens more better and less. known inhabitants of the MCU.

Besides the audacity of its narration, what strikes by far the most What if…? is the mind-boggling mix of formats and techniques that somehow coalesce into a seamless style that’s different from… well, just about anything else. Asked to break down the components and explain how they were treated and integrated, Franck did his best.

“The point is, you can’t look at it and say, ‘Oh, it’s done like that …” he begins. “It’s not as simple as saying, it’s 2D and it’s 3D, because different planes were approached differently. We did not limit ourselves. We tried to take advantage of all the toys we had – 2D backgrounds, 3D backgrounds, a 3D character with a 2D look, 2D effects, 3D effects – and with the fact that the art direction is so strong, you can’t tell where one ends and the other starts. That’s the magic of it.

Asked how he handled this complex process, Franck first underlines the extreme competence and cooperation of the team, or what the production designer Paul Lasaine called “our little creative five-headed hydra”.

“We were all completely holistically hand in hand because nothing matters more than how what you do will be used by the next person on the line,” he says. “So while each was, of course, responsible for their specialty, we would always ask, ‘What do you need? What can I do for you?’ It was such a cohesive teamwork. It was just wonderful.

Regarding the specific parameters of his own role, however, he admits it was extremely practical. “There is hardly any shooting in the whole season that I haven’t shot,” he recalls. “Whether it was for a choice of actor or movements that I wanted to see pushed or made more natural, or maybe the spacing of certain actions so that the scene had more impact. I had great partners. in the three studios that we worked with, but I was very involved, shot by shot, frame by frame, making sure that the creators’ vision would be realized in the animation.

In the same way that he struggled to disentangle the various components and techniques that made up the set, Franck was a bit vague about the details of the testing process the team used to develop the look of the show. However, he vividly remembers when they nailed him down.

“So we throw pieces into the mix and, until you see it all together, you don’t really know what it is,” he says. “You’re still waiting for that one shot that lets you know it’s working. And I can tell you exactly when it was. It was in the first episode, when the German soldier comes out from behind the truck and walks through the headlights, rolling up his sleeves to fight. And that was the first shot that we saw completely made up where we knew, okay, this is the show! We’ve all talked about it a lot, that time when we were all in the screening room and we were like, okay, there’s the show.

Considering the number of characters in the series, each with their own established traits, as well as the scale and complexity of the action, it’s easy to imagine the kind of challenges Franck and the team face. .

“We show stuff that you’ve never seen before in animation, all the physical stuff, all the battles,” he observes. “So of course it tests the animators in new ways because we try to make the actions very believable and specific. Even some of the fighting styles we refer to are very specific, with each character fighting in their own way. And so trying to capture the vibe, the specific vibe, and the specific physical actions, was probably what put the most demands on the animators.

“You know, it’s a little new that we can tell these stories in animation,” he continues. “And these are the stories I wanted to tell for a long time. We really wanted it to be as new and exciting on the outside as we already felt on the inside. “

Jon Hofferman's picture

Jon Hofferman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and editor. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline that makes a wonderful gift.

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