(PCM) Jarrett Heather has been a dedicated lifelong “Weird Al” Yankovic fan, but when Al contacted Jarrett in November of 2014, the only back-story Al had on Jarrett was his own admiration of Jarrett’s work.
Jarrett had previously produced a music video in 2010 called Shop-Vac using a form of design called kinetic typography. Al had his own vision for a music video and believed Jarrett was a fit.
Over the course of almost a year the two then collaborated on that music video exclusively for “Weird Al” to be a part of his new album Mandatory Fun.
Unless you’ve been living under a virtual rock, you should be one of the ten million viewers (and still climbing) that has watched Word Crimes, a parody music video of 2013′s summer hit Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke.
This interview with Jarrett reveals some great trivia related to the Word Crimes video and of course Jarrett’s experience with “Weird Al”.
(Lars) How did you meet “Weird Al”?
(Jarrett) Al contacted me by email last November (2013). I was just minding my own business, and then “New message from Al Yankovic” was on my screen.
(Lars) Did you doubt it was him at first?
(Jarrett) No, I wasn’t skeptical at all.
(Lars) What was going through your mind? Did you ask him why he sought you out?
(Jarrett) I was very excited. I’ve been a huge fan of Al’s work since I was seven.
(Lars) Did Al approach you because you were a fan of his music or did he know of your artistic background?
(Jarrett) Al had seen a cartoon I made in 2010 called “Shop Vac”. After seeing that music video he decided I was “the best person in the world” at animating typography.
(Lars) What inspired the concept of the video?
(Jarrett) Al’s lyrics were the primary inspiration for the concept. I wanted the art in the video to show a contrast between new media and old media, with the textbooks and encyclopedias representing the “word police”, and the outmoded computer interfaces representing the “word criminals”.
After settling on that concept, I looked very, very closely at the video for Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Although that video’s Spartan production didn’t give me a lot to latch onto for parody, I still wanted to get a feel for the movement and the energy of the video–the length of the cuts, the staging, and the color grading. The look and feel of Blurred Lines informed a lot of design decisions on Word Crimes.
(Lars) You have a strong understanding of visual media. Where did you learn so much?
(Jarrett) I have no formal training in design or animation, but I’ve been doing graphic design professional (mostly for software interfaces) for over fifteen years. My background is in web publishing and software development.
(Lars) Tell me a little about your first planning session with “Weird Al”?
(Jarrett) Al and I corresponded mostly by email. He brought a lot of specific ideas for visual gags, but he left the design of the movie in my hands.
(Lars) Do any of his gags stand out in the video? Which do you like most?
(Jarrett) The “doing good/well diagram” was Al’s idea. I like that one a lot because it’s a good visual representation of the grammar rule, and it’s a subtle reference to the television show 30 Rock.
(Lars) Are you one of those people that points out grammatical mistakes, lazy numerical shortcuts (i.e. sk8 instead of skate) and others outlined in the video Word Crimes to friends on Facebook or in tweets?
(Jarrett) Although I believe it’s important to express oneself clearly, I’m the last person who will belittle others for making little language mistakes. In fact, I look at the song as more of a send-up of “Grammar Nazis” than an admonishment of sloppy writing. The “Bachelor of Writing Good” visual gag is sort of a clue that this video is meant to amuse more than inform.
(Lars) I think a lot of people will be surprised to read that. Wouldn’t you say the song’s narrative implies shame?
(Jarrett) I’m not the songwriter, so thankfully it’s not for me to say. But as a fan of Al’s previous work, I suspect one should be cautious about assuming he’s planted his feet on one “side” of the joke. Is “Sports Song” an earnest anthem of athletic fandom, or is it making fun of sports fans? That depends entirely on whether the listener likes sports. I look at “Word Crimes” the same way.
(Lars) How many of your life experiences made it into Word Crimes?
(Jarrett) You’ll find a few specific personal references here and there, but I focused on telling the Word Crimes story, which was written by Al.
(Lars) How much did the initial plan to final product change during production?
(Jarrett) Surprisingly little, actually. When I look at the animatic, which was designed very, very quickly at the start of the project, I see that 95 percent of the big decisions made it through production. But animation is a very iterative process, so a few of the shots did evolve.
(Lars) Did Al storyboard it and present it to you or did you both work on that too?
(Jarrett) His initial suggestions were just written out. The movie has very few storyboards of any kind, in fact. I found it quicker to just compose shots directly in After Effects.
(Lars) Were you and Weird Al together when he first saw the final product?
(Jarrett) Sadly, no.
(Lars) It must have been an exciting moment for you to unveil that hard work. What was his reaction? Can you give people an idea?
(Jarrett) He has thanked me so many times in so many ways over the last six months; I can hardly recount them all. To say Al has been gracious toward me would be an understatement in the extreme. He has been an absolutely pleasure to work with from the start of the project through the launch of the record.
(Lars) What was the first “Weird Al” song you ever heard?
(Jarrett) I have clear memories of hearing Eat It for the first time at the age of seven. I was a very picky eater myself, so the song had a big impact on me.
(Lars) Al is known to have certain modesty about him. How assertive is he in getting what he wants from a concept?
(Jarrett) No detail of the movie was too small for discussion, and there was certainly some back-and-forth on a few ideas. We both had the same goal: To make the funniest video possible, so we never had much difficulty seeing eye to eye.
(Lars) Would you work with him again? If so, what would you like to try?
(Jarrett) I’d agree to another project in a heartbeat. I’d leave the subject matter up to him. Coming up with funny and interesting ideas for songs is very difficult.
(Lars) How long did it take you to complete the visual?
(Jarrett) I spent 500 hours, working nights and weekends over the course of three months.
(Lars) 500 hours is a long time. How does that compare to real world projects at work?
(Jarrett) In the time it takes to design, compose, animate and render a single shot for Word Crimes I can design and program and launch a complete, working website. This is sort of why I have so few animation projects to show off. The opportunity cost of a music video, from my perspective, is about 60 or 70 website projects.
(Lars) Any points of frustration? Was there a deadline?
(Jarrett) Yes, my contract with RCA/Sony specified a deadline of April 1st. I’m proud that I delivered the final animation on that date, but the audio soundtrack didn’t get mixed until the middle of May. Al tells me it’s the first time a vendor had completed his video before the song was recorded, so I suppose the deadline might have had some flexibility.
(Lars) At what point did you share it with Al?
(Jarrett) When Al first sent me the “demo” recording and timing master track, I told him I’d show him the initial designs within a week or so. After one day of work I’d already had 20 or 30 seconds of the animatic designed, so I sent him a rough render for feedback. We ended up corresponding nearly daily throughout the three-week design process.
Once I shifted gears into final production, I could only produce 10 or 20 seconds of footage a week, so we’d exchange email less often. But Al was intimately involved at every stage of production. I’m thankful for that. The video would not be nearly as good without all his input.
(Lars) You’ve gained a lot of notoriety with this video. Did you have any idea of the amount of views it would get on YouTube before it went up?
(Jarrett) Based on the subject matter I suspected it would spread in a viral way. The performance so far has been in on the higher end of my expectations.
(Lars) Have you had a lot of media contact you in response to the video?
(Jarrett) Yes. Radio, print, television, bloggers, podcasters, you name it. I don’t have a lot of interest in promoting myself, so I’m kind of just rolling with it.
(Lars) What’s that like?
(Jarrett) It’s a little stressful. I’m a shy person and I didn’t take this job because I was looking for a spotlight.
(Lars) This experience obviously benefited you on a number of levels from showcasing your talent to getting to know Al personally. What’s the biggest take-away in this project for you?
(Jarrett) My biggest take-away so far is not to underestimate myself. When you start a project like this, and you’re just looking at a blank canvas that stretches on for two hundred twenty-two seconds… it can be pretty daunting. Success was not guaranteed, and the prospect of disappointing one of my childhood heroes loomed over me in a very real way. Now that I can look back on it all and see just how much I was able to produce in a relatively short time, I’ll probably wield my powers with a little more confidence in the future.
(Lars) Jarrett, thanks for giving people some insight on this video. Will people see more from you? Do you have a YouTube channel or site you’d like to promote?
(Jarrett) Follow @spaceparanoids to get notified about future projects, but don’t expect a steady stream of animation from me.
(Lars) You’re employed already, but if another notable person needed your work, who would be top on your list?
(Jarrett) I’d love to combine more typography with musical comedy. If Tenacious D asked me to direct a video that would probably be a fun time. (Call me, Jack!)
Writers Note: I’ve known Jarrett Heather for 15 years. When I first met Jarrett, he had the rug pulled out from him by an unscrupulous employer but I knew inside a few minutes nothing could keep Jarrett down. We soon after worked together until Jarrett perused greater dreams in design across country in California.
Jarrett has a knack for understanding all things visual. Lessons he left me with were from simple to advanced such as the sixty percent white space rule, to the larger your company the smaller your logo.
Jarrett will never hurt for love in his trade, but should you ever have the opportunity to work with him, you will learn a lot. When he moved from Delaware to California I lost not only a mentor, but also a friend. If you are a creator, follow him on any social media.
The post The Story Behind the Weird Al Word Crimes Video with Designer & Animator Jarrett Heather appeared first on Unskinny Pop.