Grant Masaru Imahara is an American electrical engineer, roboticist, and television host. He is best known for his work on the television series MythBusters, in which he designed and built numerous robots that were needed for the show, and specialized in operating the various computers and electronics that were utilized to test myths.
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EDIT: Thanks for all your questions and comments! I'm stepping away for a couple of hours to do some work, but I'll be back to answer more. So feel free to keep asking!
Hi, Reddit, it's Grant Imahara, TV host, engineer, maker, and special effects technician. I'm back from my Down the Rabbit Hole live tour with /u/realkaribyron and /u/tory_belleci and I just finished up some work with Disney Imagineering. Ask me about that, MythBusters, White Rabbit Project, Star Wars, my shop, working in special effects, whatever you want.
> it was a robot
Do you play computer games? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I'm level 204 on Overwatch. I main Pharrah and Bastion (Bastion is making a comeback) as well as Soldier and Symmetra.
We’ve heard about Adam and Jamie’s relationship on Mythbusters being civil but that they weren’t friends outside of the show. Did that ever effect production and what are your relationships with Tori and Kari like in real life?
That statement is often misconstrued. They have mutual respect but don't hang out after work. But there's no "bubbling animosity" that's often implied. Since I was always at M7, I didn't often have the chance to interact with A+J, but watching them solve a problem in real time is really cool, actually. They do not bring ego into the suggestions.
Before starting on Mythbusters, I'd already known and worked with Adam, Jamie, and Tory for many years, and worked with Kari briefly. We weren't thrown together as a group of hosts, and I think you can see that chemistry.
I'm friends with Tory and Kari in real life as well, though it's harder to hang out since I've moved down to Los Angeles.
What work were you doing for Disney Imagineering?
Due to non-disclosure agreements, I cannot say the exact nature of my work, but safe to say it was a robot.
Are there any myths you wish you could have covered on Mythbusters but that weren't practically feasible?
The holy grail is the upside-down race car. By virtue of its design, an Indy race car has enough downward force at speed to run inverted. Just needed (1) a helical track (2) an Indy race car and (3) a driver.
What personal engineering project would you undertake if funding was not a problem?
Giant bipedal fighting robot. RobotJox style with live armaments!
If you had once chance to time travel what period would you go to?
Renaissance, maybe? I think it would be cool to visit Leonardo daVinci's shop.
Any chance that another White Rabbit Project like show happen with you, Tori, and Kari?
There's always a chance. Sadly, there will be no season 2 of WRP on Netflix. Their focus at the moment is scripted series that are binge-able.
Follow up — one kaiju-sized duck or 100 duck-sized kaiju?
100 duck-sized kaiju LOL
What would your dream cosplay be?
My cosplays tend to be uniform-based. My two favorites right now are my BSG Viper pilot flight suit and the Star Trek Wrath of Khan-era ("monster maroon") Sulu.
I've been rewatching Mythbusters lately and one scene that gets replayed a lot through the series is you and Tori arguing over whether or not you "always use the blue rope" when towing cars. What is never shown is who was actually right. Who was right?
We always use the blue rope.
So here's the plan: a WRP-based superhero series. By day, you, Tori, and Kari build robots. At night you fight crime.
That would never work. IT'S TOO CLOSE TO REALITY.
What new technologies or other recent innovations are you excited about right now? How do you think it will make our lives easier?
Self-driving cars. Foldable LCD panels. LCD contact lenses.
What steps would you suggest for kids interested in robotics to turn their hobby into a career?
Start with a kit. When I was growing up, I had Lego (not even Mindstorms). Gotta start somewhere!
Are you turning into a crazy cat person?
I'm apparently already there. That is Dipper. She was a rescue cat. She is a polydactyl (extra toes).
Hi Grant - thanks for doing another AMA! Would you ever consider returning to Battlebots? (or combat robotics in general?) If not, why not? If maybe.... what would you build?
Also, your book on robotics has been a great help over the last couple of years.
I might make a return to combat robotics. In the time since I actively competed, the technology has changed so much. The motors and batteries are significantly better. It's a fun but demanding hobby. When I look back at it, I was a much younger man. With apparently a lot more free time!
I love Overwatch, what's your rank in comp?
To be 100% honest, I tried comp and found it too stressful. I like to play mystery heroes because everyone isn't playing their main and it's more fun.
Does it Rhyme with Far Tours?
If you can build an impossible machine (machines that goes against the law of physics), which would you like to build?
Perpetual motion/free energy machine
Now you just need a Mabel to complete the pair...
10 points for Gryffindor! Yes, Dipper was in fact named after Gravity Falls.
What was your favorite part of the 'Down the Rabbit Hole' tour? Would you do it again?
The best part of the tour was interacting with my friends in front of a live audience and hearing them laugh and cheer. For our finale, we create a giant cloud of nitrogen and walk through it to do our bows.
[The worst part is the travel. New city every day.]
Follow up question! Which inventor would you want to meet?
What was your favorite myth from a building perspective?
Two of my favorites from later episodes were the Earthquake Shake Table and Tennis Wing Walk. The earthquake table was cool because it required a giant air bearing (cushion of air like air hockey). The tennis wing walk required me to design a giant wing structure that we welded to a flat bed pickup. I was neat because of the sheer scale of it all.
Hi, Grant. I miss seeing you on Mythbusters -- you always had (and usually made) the coolest toys.
What do you think is the coolest thing about Making / electronics? What about the hobby/profession excites you the most?
Bonus question if you have time: What in your opinion makes for a good vs. not-so-good electronics course? (I teach, and am always looking to improve.)
Giving something the appearance of life. That's the most rewarding part of animatronics for me.
Did you ever try a myth where you got to the end thought "Well that was disappointing"?
Squash Weightlifter. A growing pumpkin is supposed to have enough force to lift a car. We had champion giant pumpkin seeds and high-tech hydroponics. We couldn't grow a damn thing. Never made it to air.
Hey Grant! A pleasure to be able to chat with you today!
As we all know, Adam has a small warehouse ~~in the San Francisco Mission District~~ an undisclosed location near the south of France that he has loaded with shop equipment, tools, and other treasures of jobs and movies past.
My question to you then is, do you have any such space that you do hobbies, tinkering, and/or robotics in? I can't recall having seen one that you have posted (but it's entirely possible that I'm one of today's lucky 10,000 and I would love to be proven wrong!). I'm sure more than a few of us would like a photo/video tour!
As a side question, do you have any advice for makerspaces that are on a bit of a tighter budget (I ask as a member of a 501(c)3 makerspace in Denver with a lower member count)?
And finally, what is the one tool or piece of equipment that you think every single shop should have?
Cheers, and thanks for reading!
I have my own shop. My tools include multiple 3D printers (Ultimaker and Zortrax), a laser cutter, a Tormach CNC machine, birdgeport mill, industrial lathe, and welding equipment. I put together the shop after leaving MB because I always wanted a place where I could make things. In fact, the mill is the same mill I used on MB. They let me buy it after we shut down M7.
Do you have any advice for someone trying to get their foot in the door for doing movie props/costumes/set, etc apart from just taking whatever you can get at first?
I have a sizable portfolio, and really have to work my butt off to get involved with any project, which tend to just end with little to no leads after it is done.
If you've done a few projects and have a portfolio, congrats! You're ahead of the game. Now get your portfolio scanned into a PDF. Work on a professional cover letter. Email it out to any shops your can find. Scan movie credits for names and other leads. Do some detective work and get your name out there.
Do you own any Bitcoins or crypto-currencies?
No, I had a friend many years ago who was trying to make a career mining. The technology leapt too fast and he couldn't get it going. They are super volatile currencies, which makes me a little wary.
How was it to work on Star Wars and then be involved with a Star Trek fan film?
Literal dream come true. Working on R2-D2 was a life achievement. As was playing TOS-era Sulu. I remember sitting in my Sulu costume, at my console, on the beautiful Enterprise bridge set, being SOO giddy because I couldn't believe I was doing it.
What was the experience like working for Disney?
Very cool. I was working with Disney Research. We were building quick prototypes and testing ideas and making changes on the fly. Very much like how we did things on Mythbusters. Also, they have the most impressive shop I've ever seen.
Did you get Geoff Peterson back from Craigy, or did that become the property of his production? Shouldn't Geoff have his own TV show by now? What's the hold up?
Actually, I get asked what happened to Geoff a lot. Last Christmas, I was at Craig's christmas party and I asked him. He said, "would you like to see him?" and I said "yeah" so we went to Craig's personal office, and there was Geoff, sitting in a chair. So he's safe and sound with Craig.
Hi Grant! Big fan of your stuff, both as a Mythbuster... and a tabletop gamer! Loved watching you play that Dracula game with Wil Wheaton :) Will we get to see you do more tabletop stuff in the future? (Would love to get you on Critical Role as a guest, haha, or other Geek&Sundry stuff!)
I would love to do more stuff with Wil and Geek & Sundry! I'm also friends with Matt and Marisha. It all comes down to scheduling and whether they've got an opportunity.
Let's go back to 1999. Which did you like more: the Playstation or the Nintendo 64? What was your favorite game?
Playstation. Resident evil 2 FTW. Played in the dark with all drapes closed.
No dwarf fortress though?
I like paying Torb on mystery. I also like the voice like "I'm giving it all I got!"
Follow up question Kirk or Picard?
I grew up with Next Gen. Inner Light and Darmok FTW
It makes me happy to hear that they are still together. It was clear that Craig and Geoff had a "special" relationship.
One of my great regrets is that we were planning on adding a pelvic thrust to Geoff (without telling Craig). This was right before they announced Craig leaving the show.
Hi Grant ! Big fan here ... What's is your secret to never age ??
Are you actually afraid of spiders (or other creepy-crawlies)? I remember an episode of MythBusters where you seemed more than a little nervous to be surrounded by them :)
Yes. And NEVER tell a television producer what ACTUALLY scares you.
Do you build robot friends?
Yes, I'm working on a personal BB-8 and R2-D2 right now.
Yeah he was actually at the world champs in st louis a few years back
Also, I was a mentor for Team 841 in Richmond, CA for four years.
Do you use a 3D printer in your builds? If so which one do you recommend for general applications?
I've had great luck with my Ultimaker 2+extended for PLA and Zortrax for ABS.
Hey Grant, love your work!
Still driving your Tesla? How do you like it? Plan on getting the new Roadster?
I can't justify a $250k car. Also, I don't need to go zero-60 in 1.8 sec. However, I do still love my Tesla Model S.
What are some of the things you love about FIRST?
Challenging my students to do something they didn't they could do. It's the best when they realize that they have so much potential.
Do you still offer your services to the film industry post-Mythbusters?
There aren't many opportunities for practical models or animatronics in movies these days. That's why I've been consulting for Imagineering.
What was it like on the last day of Star Trek Continues? and Favorite Star Trek phaser prop
Very emotinal. THe whole week, actually, because as each cast member would do their final scene, it would be announced and the whole cast and crew would applaud.
Whenever I see the name Grant Morrison, I always think of you first. Do other people confuse you with him or is it just me?
We actually have a common friend in LA (a photographer) and we were at his party and he introduced us. I knew who he was immediately because he's got a unique look. Not sure he knew who I was tho. But we bonded over being named Grant.
If battlebots was scaled up to use remote controlled cars, modified with weapons. Which car and weapons would you use?
Something with a low center of gravity, and a robust frame. Maybe a mustang. Or a police cruiser. I would have dual miniguns. Rockets are too hard to aim.
Whats the oddest music genre or song you'd recommend?
Too Many Zoos
If you had to pick a favorite between Adam or Jamie, which one would it be and why? (In terms of working with AND personality)
That's a tough one. I have so many common interests with both. As a movie prop geek, I definitely share a lot with Adam. He's also active in many of the geekerati (is that word?) circles that I hang in. Working with Adam is sometimes challenging because he is very fast, but it also means he's like a tornado whipping through the shop leaving a trail of devastation LOL
Jamie and I share a keen fascination with mechanics and we could talk for hours. (In fact, insider info: Jamie has a few code words that will trigger him into deep discussion. Magnets, for one LOL) Working with Jamie is very quiet and methodical. When alone, Jamie often plays music in his shop. Sometimes classical, sometimes whatever is on the radio.
So, sorry. Can't choose just one.
Have you ever thought of doing a building camp to teach kids (or kids of all ages :-)? My 8 and 12 year old daughters would love to go to something like that!
Kari Tory and I briefly considered some kind of Myhtbusters summer camp where you could get the MB experience. In addition to the obvious liability problems, there were licensing concerns, etc. So it was a fun idea but ultimately not feasible.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Jamoca Almond Fudge
Do you watch Anime? Whats your favorite series?
OLD school: Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist
New stuff: Your Name, Netflix Voltron is also pretty good
Favorite car that you dealt with while filming Mythbusters?
That Chysler Imperial (Black Beauty) from Green Hornet. It was a shame we had to destroy it. I still feel bad about that.
Can you weld?
Yes, though I do not have certification. And I really need to practice my TIG welding more.
Hi Grant, how you answer this question will determine your status on reddit.
Toilet paper: over or under?
Do you ever work with Laser engravers/cutters? Any preference for any specific type or brand of laser system?
I have a Universal Laser and I love it!
What equipment would you want from games, movies, etc to have in your life?
I want Tony Stark's shop. Automated assembly line FTW