Ten Minutes With: Daron Nefcy, Creator, “Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil”
By: Marjorie Galas
Nestled in Glendale, California is the Disney TVA Art Gallery, a modern, private viewing space that celebrates the art of, and inspired by, Disney. On March 24th, 2015, a group of invite-only guests enjoyed the opening of “The Disneyland 60th Anniversary Show” – an exhibit featuring works inspired by the architecture, experiences and magic of the Disneyland theme park.
Daron Nefcy is one of the artists contributing pieces to this celebrated art show. Nefcy broke into the Disney XD universe at a Comic Con 2014 event where the opening title of her new show, “Star vs. The Forces of Evil”, premiered. The short sequence sparked hundreds of fan art pieces well before the show’s sneak preview on WATCHDisneyXD.com February 23rd. Prior to the show’s official television premier March 30th, Disney XD announced it was renewing the series for a second season. Variety 411 caught up with Nefcy at the show to discuss the inspiration behind her first series and the excitement she feels being part of the elite group of animators featured on Disney XD.
Variety 411: How does it feel to be part of the Disney family?
Daren Nefcy: Oh, it is very exciting! I’ve always been a Disney fan, since I was a kid, and I am really excited about the variety of projects they are doing here. Star previewed really well and I think the premier is going to do well. I’m just really excited right now.
411: Tell me how it feels to have so much fan attention before the show even premiered.
DN: Before the preview I was very nervous because someone had filmed the theme song from ComiCon and posted it on YouTube, and we were getting all of these fans off of that, creating fan art. They were doing all this great work and I was hoping the show would live up to their expectations. Then the preview episode happened and they really liked it, so we got even more fan art, I’m actually not to nervous now with the premier, it’s kind of nice to have had that preview already.
411: Tell me little about how you got your start. How did you first get inspired by animation, and what excited you about that field?
DN: Oh, you know, I always wanted to do it, I was always drawing characters. I was making my own comics in grade school. I did a bunch of comics about a pink cat named Uh Oh. In the fourth grade I told everybody that I wanted to be an animator, and I’ve pretty much just had the same goal It’s kind of been my plan A, you know?
411: When did Star percolate in your mind?
DN: I came up with her in my third year of college. She started just as a sketch. I came up with the story around the sketch.
411: Tell me a little about how you pitched the story to Disney. Tell me how that came to be.
DN: Gosh, well, I had been pitching Star around for a little bit. She actually was in development somewhere else for a little bit and while that was going on I pitched a bunch of other ideas. So I had already met everybody at Disney because I had pitched them some other ideas. When I got Star back, that was the one Disney really liked, and it was always my favorite. Star always felt really special because I think it is the most personal.
411: Is there a little bit of you in Star?
DN: Oh yeah, definitely. Basically, I wanted to be Sailor Moon when I was a little kid and I wanted to have magic powers and a talking cat and all that stuff so bad, so I think there is definitely a lot of that in Star.
411: I wanted to ask you about picking your team and finding the right people to develop your story with. What has that process been like, and was it easy to find collaborators?
DN: Oh gosh, well, I don’t know if it is ever easy. First season was definitely difficult, but what was great through the first season was that you got to see which people really got the show. Now, going into the second season, some of these people have really moved around – my creative director, Dominic Bisignano was the story board artist first season, and my supervising producer Aaron Hammersley, who was a director first season, have been an amazing help. Oh and I have to say Piero Polluzo, one of my directors, I mean, these guys, when things were messy first season , they never gave up, they worked really hard to make the episodes great, and just put in so much extra effort. It was just so great to find people as passionate about the project as I am. That is always the fear, that you are not going to be able to find people like that.
411: Where they people that you knew beforehand?
DN: No, I didn’t know any of them beforehand, actually. They have just been all amazing! You need a lot of people to make a show
411: Often people will work with someone they knew from school or a long-time collaborator. While that is great, It must be nice to have a fresh perspective.
DN: It’s so funny, Alex Hirsh (creator, “Gravity Falls”) and I have a lot of the same friends that I went to college with and they all work on his show, so I was saying “I’ve got to find some new people!” Everyone on the show is just awesome and I couldn’t be luckier. Everybody puts themselves in it. I fell like the show has grown so through collaboration. I’m a very collaborative person so it’s been awesome.
411: What have you learned from this first season that’s helping you move into the second season, developing story lines or making Star more realized?
DN: Well, it takes a while to find a character. And I think now, going into the second season, we know crystal clear who Star is, who Marco is , who are other characters are, and they makes such a big differences. TV is so fast, it’s not like a movie where you get to do tons of different edits. With a TV show you’re boarding that episode in six weeks, and at the end of that six weeks that’s what you are doing. So anytime say, “Well, maybe we’ll try an episode where Star will be like this”, and by the end of you decide (makes grimace) “Ewe, I don’t know, is that really Star? OK we are never doing that one again,” well, it’s on TV and that’s how it is, you know? And I think with any first season regardless of what it is, you will find the episodes where you are like, “Well, that doesn’t really feel (the character.”
411: After doing the first season, where there aspects of the character that you discovered you wanted to explore or infuse into the show?
DN: Oh, absolutely. I feel like her characters has always been there, but then things get highlighted. Someone will tell her to go do something and she’ll say “OK” but then she won’t do it. I love that about her, I love that she is a flawed character but that you like her. You never know if people are going to like it or not, but I like that people are really connecting with her. She’s unique and she’s flawed and she doesn’t care what people think.
411: You worked really hard over the years to develop the character and develop the style. What was it like to find the voice actor and define the voice of Star? And all the other characters as well?
DN: That is one of the most fun parts of the projects. Finding Eden Sher, who voices Star, was really huge. I wanted Star to be unique, and we had all these wonderful voice actresses come in, and they all did really wonderful things, but a lot of them just sounded a little too pretty, a little too princesses. Then Eden came in and she just exudes confidence. Eden very much embodies Star: she is herself and very confident and she is a woman who is doing amazing things all the time, and they developed together. There were things that Eden would come in and say, and then we would write them into the next episode of Star. IT’s great, they start feeding off of each other
411: Was she the type of voice you pictured from the beginning?
DN: Yeah, but another thing that is funny is before you even find a voice actor, you end up doing a lot of pitching, so you kind of get that in your head. And not that Eden and I sound the same, but we do kind of sound the same in some instances, except she is an amazing actress, so (laughs).
411: Do you think you might like to go into doing more voices? You actually are doing a few voices now.
DN: I’m “Star Fan 13” on the show; she is a girl in the school who loves Star Butterfly, so I’m always doing her and just a few little side things. It’s a lot of fun
411: Obviously season two comes up next for you, but do you have other projects that you are developing?
DN: Honestly I’m too busy to focus on anything else right now. I do have a lot of ideas; there are other things I’ve pitched in the past that I think would be cool. You’ll get a new idea here or there, it’s funny because I’ve jotted a lot of them down, but definitely right now there’s not enough time. I hope Star goes a few seasons, I would like that.
411: Let me ask you one last question. There’s been so much attention to the fact that you are a young woman with this great show coming out. Do you feel a certain responsibility to this type of “label” or do you just feel excited that, after a lot of hard work that “Hey, here I am.”
DN: I don’t know if I feel a certain responsibility. It’s interesting because a lot of people have been asking me this. I don’t know if it’s just my generation or if it’s just me, but going to school for animation or getting jobs or in pitching shows, I never felt like being a female was a burden. It never was an issue and no one seemed to hold that against any part of the projects. There are so many young women on my crew and obviously there is still a lot of work to be done, but it makes me feel like (stops to think.) It makes me think about my mom. My mom is wonderful and always so proud and just the best. She would always say that when she was young no one expected her to have a career. She is just so smart, I always thing she could have had a great career if anyone had just told her she could have one. I feel that for my generation, we were always allowed to have a career, and do what we wanted to do, and that’s wonderful. I have to say we didn’t have a lot of female directors in the first season, but a lot of the women on the show, and I think we were about half female; a lot of them were doing their first positions, and being amazing at those beginning positions. But you know what? In five years their going to be running all the shows and I think that we’re really going to see a change in the face of animation, you know? And it’s very exciting.
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