In Season 1 Episode 4 of Marvel's What If...? series there are certain creatures shown which are used by Doctor Strange to gain certain powers. What are these creatures?
Slash Film conducted an interview with Ryan Meinerding -- the VP and Creative Director of Visual Development at Marvel Studios -- and as far as he knew, the creatures in question were all brand new characters created specifically for this series, with no basis in the comics. He credited their design to the What If...? storyboard artist, the director, Bryan Andrews, and the head writer, A.C. Bradley.
SLASH FILM: I want to dig right into this episode of "What If...?" because it's full of such spectacular imagery. What exactly was your mandate for creating art for this episode? Just make as many fantastical creatures as you can for Doctor Strange to absorb and then just go from there?
RYAN MEINERDING: That's a good place to start. Essentially we have, obviously the MCU Doctor Strange to start from, the sort of look and costume. I think Bryan was looking for how to do the evil version of that. How do we get him to a place that actually feels like he's really gone down a road that he shouldn't have, and he went down a road that's very different than where we've seen him in the MCU up until this point? The different creatures sprung out of the storyboard artist imagination and [director] Bryan [Andrews'] imagination, and [head writer A.C. Bradley's] imagination. We were just doing our best to keep up with all the creativity that was being thrown at us and say, "How can we not only do interesting visuals for creatures that he could be absorbing, but how can it become interesting once he's absorbed it and you see that creature represented in him for a second?" And then also using all those design elements to turn him into something at the end of the episode when he can't really control them.
SLASH FILM: How many different creatures did you create art for in this episode?
RYAN MEINERDING: It's a very good question. I don't actually know. It feels like it must've been about 20.
SLASH FILM: Were there any that didn't make the cut that were maybe a little bit too wild or that you just couldn't include for whatever reason?
RYAN MEINERDING: No, people were pretty judicious about moving forward with what the proof concepts were, but I think the only exploration I can really remember — we did a lot of exploration of what the different Doctor Stranges would look like once those creatures [were inside him] and when he started to turn evil and he gets the cloak. It looks more evil and his face starts turning a little bit more gaunt and pointy. We did a lot of exploration for his costume. We did within each creature. There would be a significant amount of design work done to figure out what each creature was. But I don't think we did more exploration outside of those concepts.
SLASH FILM: Do these creatures come from the pages of Marvel Comics or were they pulled from general fantasy mythology and whatnot?
RYAN MEINERDING: As far as I know, they don't come from the comics. It feels like they were more engineered towards the idea of, if this character needed to be incorporated into an evil Doctor Strange, would it look cool? How do we get antlers, how do we get tentacles... stuff like that.
SLASH FILM: This is the second time we've seen that giant tentacle creature in this series. Is that supposed to be Shuma-Gorath or is that just a nondescript creature with giant tentacles?
RYAN MEINERDING: As far as I know, it's not Shuma-Gorath, but I'm not entirely sure what their plans were. I think Bryan's sensibilities have — he loves Cthulhu stuff, so the notion of doing more tentacles in an episode, I think it was just the more tentacles, the better. So I would look at it from that point of view. I don't think any of those creatures were really directly or pulling from any or any character in comics.
By my counting we see a total of 12 monsters and then we see 6 versions of Strange being transformed without seeing the monster that did it. I don't think we have any explicit confirmation on what the monsters are yet and I don't have an answer for them all but I'll do my best.
This is most likely the same tentacled creature we saw in episode 1, "What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?", known as the Champion of Hydra. As per this related Q/A for episode 1 this is most likely Shuma-Gorath
I'm not sure there is anything directly lining up to the more stereotypical gnome in Marvel. This could just be a pure joke, similar to Alligator Loki from Loki, but it could also be referencing the Gnomes; a species of magical beings native to Asgard.
This giant bug is wearing a version of the Cloak of Levitation so I've seen people guessing it's an alternate reality version of Doctor Strange, a Variant of. It does also seem to have vague similarities to Ghaszaszh Nyirh, one of the Old Ones who does have some crossover with Doctor Strange in the comics.
This looks like a raven/phoenix. The clear guess would be this is the Phoenix Force. However, I don't think the colours match and we've yet to see X-Men content in the MCU. There's also some resemblance to Red Raven but again this seems unlikely.
This looks like Jormungand, who was prophesised to be killed by Thor during Ragnarok.
Again it doesn't seem to match up directly but this does look somewhat like Suma-Ket, the Lord of the Old Ones.
This one looks like the Fire Dragon that we saw in the opening to Thor: Ragnarok on Muspelheim.
The only creature I know of that matches "ice wolf" would be Hoarfen, the child of Fenris Wolf and an unnamed Frost Giantess. It doesn't quite match but seems close.
It does look rather generic, albeit large, so I'm not sure we can easily pin this to a specific snake in the comics. It could be Set but there's only one so this seems unlikely. It could also be Fu-Hsi, King of the Vipers. I also quite like the idea that this is a meta joke to the joke in Thor: Ragnarok and it's a reference to the snake Loki transformed into even if that is unlikely:
Thor: Yes, me too. On many, many occasions. There was one time when we were children, he transformed himself into a snake, and he knows that I love snakes. So, I went to pick up the snake to admire it and he transformed back into himself and he was like, "Yeah, it's me!" And he stabbed me. We were eight at the time.
Next we see the 6 versions of Strange transforming without seeing the monsters. I'm not really sure what we can correlate these too without seeing the monsters. That said number 4 does bear a resemblance to Dormammu. He does have 3 eyes though so it might not be Dormammu but could be another creature from the Dark Dimension.