Even before becoming a mythbuster, Grant Imahara always had one foot in the world of entertainment.
Best known for his role as a science geek on the show “MythBusters,” Imahara told an audience at IPFW Monday night that the men and women on the popular Discovery Channel show are just as nerdy, and just as fun, as what viewers see on TV.
“We like to try out our experiments as much as possible on ourselves, or our co-workers,” Imahara said, as he pointed to introduce each of the show’s stars on a screen in the Auer Performance Hall at the Rhinehart Music Center. “There’s one thing that’s usually true – there’s always someone doing something stupid.”
Imahara was on the IPFW campus as the fifth speaker in this year’s Omnibus Lecture Series.
In his presentation, “Engineering in Entertainment,” Imahara discussed his role on the show, as well as the part he’s played in creating robot characters for film and altering technology to improve engineering.
Imahara, 42, has also written a book called “Kickin’ Bot: An Illustrated Guide to Building Combat Robots” about his experiences with robots. The book was published in 2003.
The audience of nearly 1,600 roared with laughter as Imahara described some of the less-successful attempts to “bust” urban legends – including an experiment to see whether heating a lava lamp with fire would cause it to explode.
It worked, Imahara explained, shooting glass and the waxy “glob” material all over the test bunker.
However, like many episodes on the show, that wasn’t the end of the experiment as the team set out to test other items – including a can of beans.
Like the lamp, the beans exploded, spraying chunks of hot food evenly throughout the test room. From outside, the crew could smell the scent of baked beans, Imahara said.
“That’s why we always have that little disclaimer at the beginning of the episodes to say ‘don’t try this at home,’” he said.
Before his role on “MythBusters,” Imahara studied electrical engineering at the University of Southern California. After graduation, he was hired as an engineer at Lucasfilm and later moved to work as an animatronics engineer and model maker for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.
Using his knowledge of technology and engineering, he designed lighting for the Jurassic Park set, rewired R2-D2 robots for Star Wars and developed circuitry for the Energizer Bunny.
Imahara described the way technology has changed over time as he discussed the inner workings of some of his bigger projects – including re-creating the iconic moves of the Energizer Bunny by setting up a mechanism that allowed the bunny’s drum to beat consistently.
In the past, Imahara said, the mascot was controlled by a team of engineers, each performing a specific movement to keep the bunny in motion.
With Imahara’s help, Energizer now uses only three people to control the movements.
Several years ago, Energizer decided to replace the iconic bunny with a computer graphic version, Imahara said.
“They took him away, but almost immediately they had to bring him back,” he said. “ … He’s been around a long time. He’s one of the longest running mascots.”
Imahara said he’s been grateful for a career doing what he loves, but one of his fondest memories was a phone call asking him to rewire Star Wars’ R2-D2 robot.
“I grew up in this culture,” Imahara explained, describing his childhood room that was covered in Star Wars paraphernalia. “I went to school for engineering, and so for me, this was a dream come true.”
Today, Imahara is one of three official R2-D2 operators in the United States.