How a Jerusalem pioneer turned Cee Lo Green into a Google maestro

Interactive video master Vania Heymann recasts the singer’s musical bars as fodder for a search bar in his ode to Robin Williams

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The folks at Google must be pretty pleased with singer Cee Lo Green’s latest video.

In the clever, interactive work made for Green’s new single, “Robin Williams,” the song’s lyrics are automatically typed into Google, and each word or phrase — “disbelief,” “heroes,” “plainer way,” “John Belushi,” “Richard Pryor” and, of course, “Robin Williams” — generates a barrage of results as the song’s lyrics unfold in the familiar Google search bar.

Viewers can switch between Google Web, Google Images, Google Shopping and Google Videos to see what comes up with every part of each nuanced lyric.

The creator of this inventive video is Vania Heymann, a Jerusalem-born artist and director who is becoming known for his interactive works and special effects.

CeeLo Green (Courtesy)
CeeLo Green (Courtesy)

In an email exchange with The Times of Israel, Heymann, who lives in New York, said that given Green’s references to cultural icons, “googling them felt like a natural reaction.”

“Google is in some ways a sub-conscious stream of culture, and also a way to explore the digital mark that is left in the absence of some public figures,” wrote Heymann. “We also wanted to see Cee Lo in the video delivering a song that is obviously very heartfelt, so the video tab felt like the natural place.”

Vania Heymann, the son of French immigrants to Israel, discovered his video muse at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy (Photo credit: Yael Friedlander/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Vania Heymann, the son of French immigrants to Israel, discovered his video muse at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy (Photo credit: Yael Friedlander/CC BY-SA 3.0)

It isn’t the first time Heymann has hit a cultural nerve with one of his videos. He also racked up views for his video of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

While that classic was released in 1965, it never had an authorized video. The Bob Dylan website now features Heymann’s interactive work, which allows viewers to surf through 16 television channels all featuring characters lip-syncing the lyrics of the song.

There’s actor Drew Carey spoofing “The Price is Right,” an Israeli news anchor on a fictional BCC News, as well as actors exploring a new house, playing tennis, demonstrating a recipe, and in the pit of a stock exchange, all mouthing the words to the Dylan classic.

That video was named best music video of 2013 by Time magazine and garnered a Webby Award for Best Editing.

Not all of Heymann’s works are interactive, but they always demand the viewer’s attention for the duration of the video. It’s his use of video compositing, special effects and a certain amount of synchronicity (see the Dana Ivgy video below) that keeps viewers glued to the screen; there’s a lot to see and comprehend over the course of a two- or three-minute film.

It’s part of what Heymann learned at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, where he arrived to study drawing but soon encountered the world of video. Heymann said he discovered a much greater passion with his first video camera purchase.

“I do feel that video compositing and special effects are very much like drawing and demand a similar eye-hand connection, not to mention the strong storytelling component both have,” wrote Heymann. “It’s always about the idea or concept first.”

And the humor. Always the humor.

His very first video, “My Watering Can,” featured the iconic Ikea watering can, and its follow-up, “Crazy Watering Can,” saw the plastic pitcher becoming a religious symbol — like the famed Florida Keys piece of toast bearing an image of the Virgin Mary — that appears in a host of holy sites and places specific to Jerusalem culture.

One of Heymann’s first commercial series was for Shapiro Beer, a brewery founded by three Jerusalemite brothers who also studied at Hartman High School for religious boys. In the videos, a bottle of Shapiro gets tossed at typical Israeli characters, know-it-alls on topics ranging from their mother’s cooking to taxi fare to the environment.

Heymann also partners frequently with Roy Kafri, a local comedian and actor, and both work with Dana Ivgy, the Israeli actress who won an Ophir Award for her starring role in “Zero Motivation.”

His latest video with Ivgy was filmed in New York, where he currently lives. While Heymann said he loves New York for “that feeling that everything is possible and there’s something good ahead,” he said he does miss Israel and would love to work from different places without being attached to one location.

For now, said Heymann, he’s game for any interesting and exciting project, whatever the medium may be, and is working on a script for a feature film.

No clues as to what it will be about, but, maybe it’ll be interactive.

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