Music News & Reviews

Elk Grove animator thrives as ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s partner in ‘Word Crimes’

Jarrett Heather has been a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic since he was 7 years old.

Now 37, Heather joins the rest of the country in enjoying Yankovic’s newly released parody video, “Word Crimes,” but the Elk Grove resident is doing so as a blossoming celebrity.

Heather, a software developer at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, produced the visuals for “Word Crimes.” The music video, a send-up of singer-songwriter Robin Thicke’s hit single “Blurred Lines,” is composed entirely of typographic animation. The technique employs moving text that is often cleverly fitted with closely associated images, logos and symbols to express an idea – Heather’s expertise.

“Back in November of last year, I got an email out of the blue from Al Yankovic offering a directing gig,” Heather said. “He had seen a project I had done in 2010 called ‘Shop Vac’ that was animated in a similar style and he thought I was the best person to add visuals to ‘Word Crimes.’ ”

Yankovic’s success, music critics agree, rests in the visual appeal of his music videos. Some of his most popular works include “White and Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” and “Smells Like Nirvana,” which was inspired by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Word Crimes” was released Tuesday, the second day of Yankovic’s daily video release for his latest eight-song album, “Mandatory Fun.”

“Word Crimes,” which as of Saturday evening had received nearly 8 million views on YouTube, is part educational and part joking. It features some of the most common “word crimes” in the English language, such as the interchanging of “fewer” and “less” and the careless use of “it’s” instead of “its” (no apostrophe).

“I have no formal training. But my entire life I’ve been interested in how things work, whether it’s how music is made, how cartoons are drawn, or how gadgets are put together,” Heather said.

With a background in computer programming and interface design, Heather taught himself how to use the animation software Adobe Aftereffects. His first animation,“Shop Vac,” was a learning experiment. But it was good enough for Yankovic.

Though a fun project, “Word Crimes” was a challenge, Heather said.

With a tight deadline, he got to work as soon as he received the lyrics in early January, dedicating about 500 hours to the project. He drew many of the second-by-second animations by hand, before scanning and manipulating them on a computer. On average, it required two hours of work to create one second of video. All his sketches and doodles for “Word Crimes” now sit in a thick binder in his home studio.

“I stopped everything else in my life. Every night and every weekend, I was working on ‘Word Crimes,’” he said.

Heather would send a test clip to Yankovic via email, and the parody writer would send his reactions back right away. Their online correspondence went on almost daily for the first few weeks. Finally, the two met in person.

Rather than conducting business, Heather saw their meeting as an opportunity to be the Yankovic fan that he was, harkening back to his childhood days in rural Delaware. “He was very gracious about being ‘geeked out’ over,” he said with a laugh.

Are they friends?

“I would say yes, and I could only hope that the feelings are mutual. He’s been very encouraging, knowing how the spotlight was going to affect me” as a naturally shy person, Heather said.

With a full-time job, a family and “animation being so time-intensive,” he said he has been extremely selective in choosing from the steady stream of freelance opportunities that have come his way. Following the release of “Word Crimes” on Tuesday to a receptive audience, Heather is reconsidering.

“Now I need to reach a point in my life where I take all these skills and put them to work,” he said.

But he remains hesitant about making a full-time career out of animation. “It’s like making a top score in a video game. If I wanted to make my mark in musical comedy, where else can I go beyond Al? He is the entire genre.”