Click the audio link to hear an interview with Jarrett Heather on Insight with Beth Ruyak.
Tuesday morning the world woke up to the second of eight “Weird Al” Yankovic videos – “Word Crimes,” a typographic kaleidoscope of grammar rules set to the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Grammar nerds everywhere sounded an enthusiastic and perfectly punctuated cheer.
Hilarious, yes. But who is the man behind the video? Who pieced together the fast-moving text and images that make up the video for “Word Crimes?”
Allow me to introduce mild-mannered Jarrett Heather, software developer for the State of California by day and quirky comedy video animator by nights and weekends.
Heather is self taught. He spent 1,000 hours working on a video for the song “Shop Vac” by Jonathan Coulton in order to hone his skills. "Word Crimes" only took him 500 hours.
Coulton didn’t commission the video - it was just something Heather was playing around with. He didn’t even anticipate publishing it.
“'Shop Vac' was literally my first animation project,” Heather said. “It was a lot of experimentation. In retrospect it was 1000 hours well spent.”
Well spent, indeed. The video currently has more than a million views and garnered attention from industry professionals and eventually the king of parody himself.
“In November of last year I got an e-mail from Al, out of the blue, offering me a directing gig,” Jarrett said, a day after the release of “Word Crimes.”
“I couldn’t reply fast enough. 'Yes this is a dream project, I accept your terms,'” Jarrett said. “I’ve been a huge fan of Weird Al since age seven.”
Once the legal nuts and bolts were locked down Heather worked with Al one on one at every stage of the process. They worked mostly over e-mail, and once in person, which Heather said was mostly so he could geek out over meeting Yankovic.
Heather said the creative process involved a lot of back and forth. For some elements of the video Yankovic had a strong vision in place, for example he knew the rap section should be on a chalkboard.
Other times Heather asserted his vision.
“I had to push back on him a little bit and he totally respected my vision too.”
During the part about the Oxford comma Yankovic wanted collegiate lettering but Heather thought the dancing letters kicking out the comma would be better.
“Without Al’s involvement in the design process the movie would not be as funny,” Heather said. “I couldn’t ask for a better customer. Every part of the project was just fun to work on.”
As soon as the video hit the internet Tuesday, Heather’s inbox started filling up with responses, mostly positive.
“A lot of professionals in animation and graphics [responded],” Heather said. “For someone who’s not actually in that industry, it’s humbling that they are approving of my work.”
UPDATE: Yankovic responded to our request for a comment late Saturday night, so here's his perspective working with Heather on this video:
"Jarrett has a highly acute sense of comic timing as well as incredible graphic skills, which are the reasons I sought him out in the first place," Yankovic said in an e-mail. "It’s obvious that every frame of this video has been carefully thought out and lovingly rendered - it’s the attention to detail that makes this piece (and him) so exceptional."
On Heather’s website there are some behind-the-scenes snippets explaining how he crafted the video.
Here are some additional behind-the-scenes quandaries Heather answered for us:
CapRadio Music: In the "irony is not coincidence" frame, the married couple in the rain is an Alanis Morrissette reference, right? Was that Al's direction or your idea?
Jarrett Heather: Al offered "bonus points" if I could make fun of Alanis Morissette in that shot, but the visual joke was my design. It seemed obvious to contrast imagery from her pseudo-ironic lyrics against something genuinely ironic. Choosing a symbol for "irony" that you can visually ingest in a fraction of a second while all this other stuff is happening on screen was a huge challenge. I knew if there was even the slightest ambiguity someone on the internet would be asking, "well, is it ironic... really?" Thankfully the burning firetruck seems to make everyone laugh.
CapRadio Music: Everyone makes mistakes, what safegaurds were in place to ensure no use of incorrect grammar ended up in the final product?
Jarrett Heather: Al was a fastidious proofreader, and I was grateful for his help. Typos slipped into the art now and then (I'm pretty sure I even spelled his name wrong in a render or two), but we got most of them corrected. The few that remain are now classified as Easter eggs rather than errors.
CapRadio Music: Is "Weird Al" really a grammar nut, or did he have grammar consulting when writing the song.
Jarrett Heather: Al didn't share with me if he did any outside research for the lyrics. I had to do a bit, having forgotten how to diagram sentences 20 years ago. Actually, I just got an email from a professional copy editor, thanking me for using accurate "mark-up" in the typewriter shot. So it's nice to know that people notice when you take the time to get those little details right. And a relief to know other copy editors probably won't be writing to complain how I did it wrong.
Yankovic is releasing a video a day this week, starting Monday. His album, Mandatory Fun, was released on Tuesday.