Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA has become a hot spot for art lovers and pop culture enthusiasts. Since 2004, the gallery has hosted a number of unique events and exhibitions for such animated programs as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Zootopia, Moana, and Beauty and the Beast. Opening receptions tend to be packed as artists involved with the programs the exhibitions are based on are present, attracting legions of fans to attend. From April 8 through April 23, Gallery Nucleus held a tribute exhibition to Star Vs. The Forces of Evil that show creator Daron Nefcy curated. On April 22, the day before the exhibition’s closing, a special event panel was held.
Tickets were sold online a week in advance and they were gone very quickly. Nevertheless, some folks wondered if there was a chance they would be able to get in, so the Gallery put together a wait list that, last I was able to hear, went beyond 40 names. One of the conditions was if someone wasn’t able to get a ticket that they needed to purchase either a print of a selected gallery piece or a copy of the Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension fan book, which in turn could be signed by the panel afterward. Those who had purchased a ticket in advance could get the amount paid discounted if they also made a purchase as well.
Attendees arriving early had a chance to view the exhibit before it was time to get seated. The exhibit displayed art from over 40 contributors, among them were Nefcy herself as well as character designer Becky Dreistadt. Nefcy contributed six pieces of various characterizations of Star in acrylic paint upon wooden panels. Dreistadt contributed two pieces, one of Star that served as the main image for the exhibit and one of fan favorite character Hekapoo. A popular piece was a beautiful, nearly 3-foot high work done in gold leaf with black ink. In the upstairs small room, production art from the participating panel was displayed. It was a great showcase of the development process to the show, displaying the designs, early storyboards, and final backgrounds.
When it came time to seat attendees, it appeared that those on the wait list were allowed in so long as they didn’t mind standing in line for over an hour. I doubt anyone had a problem with that so long as they got in. There were many who also came in costume. There were obviously many dressed as Star and Marco, but the most impressive ones were arguably those who had the more unique costumes like Halloween Star and Marco as well as one girl dressed as Hekapoo. In fact, the girl as Hekapoo even brought sweets she had baked for the panelists. Overall, I think it was maybe two hundred who managed to get into the panel event for Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, which was a lot considering how many people Gallery Nucleus would normally be able to accommodate.
Nefcy started the panel by introducing herself and explaining her role as the show’s creator and executive producer. She described it as having to make sure everything is flowing and in tune with the primary premise of the show, essentially having her fingers on everything without actually having to bake the final product herself. She then introduced the rest of the panel consisting of Dreistadt as well as supervising producers Dominic Bisignano and Aaron Hammersley, Adam McArthur (voice of Marco Diaz), composer Brian Kim, and background artist Drake Brodahl.
Bisignano was up and he talked about one aspect of the storyboarding process, which involved the crew recording scratch dialogue. This was done to provide a reference for the voice actors while also helping with establishing the pacing of the episode. They screened the storyboards he had done with Sabrina Cotugno for a scene in the episode Bon Bon the Birthday Clown to present such use of scratch recordings, eliciting laughter from the audience upon hearing storyboard artists voice their beloved characters. Of note, Bisignano commented that Disney always made it a point that whenever a character was on a bike or skateboard that they wore helmets at all times (for safety reason’s given the show’s target audience), which led to the interesting story idea of how they were going to include them in the displayed scene of Jackie teaching Marco how to skateboard.
Hammersley continued discussing the storyboarding process, this time noting how it was a vital tool whenever they needed to make changes to the episode’s story throughout development. He added that he and Bisignano, despite being supervising producers, thought they could still do regular storyboard work in season two and found themselves overwhelmed when they had to board episodes like Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, Into the Wand, and others given how complex their stories became. Hammersley used Into The Wand as an example of developing last minute story ideas and they screened storyboards for a scene from the episode showing off the introduced ideas. Also noted was that the original title for the episode was Maze, which played into the original story idea of Star’s memories being a maze for her to navigate through.
McArthur was up. After briefly taking about what a joy his job as a voice actor was, he and Nefcy went into discussing the development of Adult Marco’s voice for the episode Running with Scissors. They noted that the producers had considered getting another actor as they were not sure if McArthur could make a convincing Adult Marco and McArthur looking to prove them wrong. To the delight of many fans, they screened a completed scene from Running with Scissors displaying McArthur voicing adult Marco. A fan jumped the gun early in asking a question regarding the age and time difference between dimensions, though the panel politely noted that they could answer questions in the Q&A portion with McArthur joked that such questions should be saved so they could be ignored then.
Kim described composing the music briefly as he would usually make the music at his studio home and then meet with Nefcy and the other main producers every two weeks to make sure everything’s coming together. An episode that made an exception to this process was Face the Music as there was a four minute song that was integral to story, so Kim had to be part of the development from the beginning. They showed video Kim made of Cotugno pitching storyboards of scenes utilizing the song that would become The Ballad of Star Butterfly before they played a section of Kim’s demo used to provide reference for final singer Patrick Stump to use.
Dreistadt was next and described the character designing process. For television, it expanded to beyond just merely designing the character in the she would also illustrate actual outline drawings of storyboards the animators could then look to in animating the scenes. Using Running with Scissors, Dreistadt showed off the various designs she did for Hekapoo and also got to show off how she would develop the outline illustrations, a favorite among the fans was Star’s look upon meeting Marco as an adult. A point was brought up that the license plate on Nachos the Dragon Bike had 667 as Disney did not want the dreaded number that came before to be used, though Nefcy reminded everyone that 667 is also the number of years it took for a Blood Moon to appear in the show’s universe.
Brodahl was last. He explained that background art would come last as that is usually the point where the episode is being finalized. He noted that they would usually try to make the backgrounds in a day, though scenes that require more detail may take three days. A favorite background displayed was apparently a bathroom, which Brodahl noted that Disney generally had the cleanest bathrooms so artists tend to use them for reference. A point was brought up how names for stores and restaurants would be aggressively researched by Disney to avoid having to discover such places actually exist so the artists would end up using crew member names, such as Britta’s Tacos becoming named after production team member Britta Reitman.
Then came the point that was the most anticipated, which was the premiere screening of the new intro sequence to be used for season three. Nefcy stressed that phones and cameras needed to be off as Disney did not want footage to leak and such leaks would result in events like these being removed. Fans complied and were treated to a really fun sequence that caused a great deal of excitement. It was liked so much that they screened it for a second time to great fanfare. Nefcy was going to show off the animatics and perhaps discuss some behind the scenes details, but was informed that they needed to jump to the Q&A portion due to time.
One of the first questions asked ended up being a request for McArthur to sing a favorite song from the show’s fictional band Love Sentence. Bisignano decided to help out and the two sang the popular Too Little, Too Late from the episode Friendenemies. Sticking to songs, a fan asked Kim about developing the themes for antagonist Toffee. Kim noted that he originally was going for some really heavy, sinister themes before he started getting a better idea of who the character was, shifting the style to be more in tune with the conniving nature of the villain. A fan asked Nefcy about getting into television animation, leading to a great answer about how her education at CalArts proved instrumental in displaying her ability to adapted to the nature of her job in being able to understand every department’s job because she had to do that in making her two-minute student films.
The most popular question came from a little girl who was actually a seat next to me to my right. Dressed as Star, she was all smiles and innocently asked “I just wanted to know, in this season [three] is any one going to die?” Everyone in the room roared with laughter at just how precious that turned out to be and even Nefcy and other members of the panel admitted that it was their favorite question, even though they couldn’t really answer it without being spoilers.
I managed to get the last question as I asked everyone on the panel about a moment in the show that they can’t believe actually made it to air. Nefcy and Brodahl both answered the episode The Banagic Incident, Bisignano picked the episode Goblin Dogs, Hammersley picked a line from Blood Moon Ball that actually got flagged only to somehow be forgotten about, McArthur picked a particularly funny moment in Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, and Dreistadt chose a descriptive line in Hungry Larry. Nefcy noted at the end that The Banagic Incident was an episode that was actually banned in England, adding to its apparent controversial reputation.
The gallery announced an intermission break before they proceeded with the signings. During this time I managed to run into Nefcy, McArthur, and Kim in the upstairs portion of the gallery. After getting my picture taken with them, we discussed a bit about the popularity of the show from how quickly tickets for this event had sold out and how packed their panels at the San Diego Comic Con were. At times they would also meet other fans, in particular parents introducing their children to them and noting their roles. Always fun to see little ones meet the talent behind the shows they grow up watching.
The signing then commenced as the finale of the panel event. Attendees were allowed two items for the panel to sign and were asked not to request any sketches, though Nefcy would draw Star or a Narwhal on pieces any way while the other artists would randomly do so depending on the amount of room they get to play with on whatever they were signing. For me, I had the panel sign a print of Nefcy’s piece that I managed to purchase prior to the start of the event. As they were signing, I managed to ask Kim if there were any plans for a soundtrack to the show to be released. He said that there presently weren’t any, but a good sign that it would be happen would be if his Tumblr page, where he posts tracks from the show, ever happens to close. Brodahl noticing that I was wearing a shirt that had the Japanese symbol for dragon led to him and Dreistadt discussing about tattoos he was interested in getting, and I talked briefly with Nefcy about our interest seeing other notable names explore making art gallery pieces like she and Dreistadt had just done. Overall, the signing took roughly 90 minutes to complete.
Events like these are always enjoyable and fascinating to attend. It allows for fandom to be celebrated and applied in a rather classical and cultural form like an art gallery exhibition. This event in particular for Star vs. The Forces of Evil was made even more fun for the sheer level of fandom attendees had and the understanding of the dedication the members of the panel had to their craft and to the show. The show’s third season will premiere on Disney XD sometime in the summer and Nefcy noted earlier that the fourth season was already in production.
|Faces of Star by Daron Nefcy|
|Hekapoo by Becky Dreistadt|
|Northstar by Matthias Bauer|
|B-Fly The Starbarian by Devin Taylor|
|Friendship Blast by Stephanie Ramirez|
|Spell Craft by Cassie Zwart|
|Fans cosplaying as Star and Marco from the episode St. Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses|
|Fan cosplaying as Hekapoo|
|Fans cosplaying as Marco and Star from the episode Hungry Larry|
|A sample of Becky Dreistadt creating an outline drawing from a storyboard for Running with Scissors|
|The bathrooms at Disney are so clean they’re referenced when creating background art|
|Dan with Daron Nefcy, Adam McArthur, and Brian Kim|