Woodsy's World Of Star Wars: A Chat With MythBuster's Grant Imahara

Last Friday, the Force was with me as I got a friendly visit from my old pal Grant Imahara. Grant and I used to work together at Lucasfilm back when we were both young Padawans. Now Grant is a host for the popular TV show MythBusters on the Discovery Channel and I am so proud of him. He makes me smile.

Grant was in NYC for w00tstock, a galactic night filled with technology and music, hosted by Paul and Storm. Gracious Grant answered a couple of questions for me. Let’s do some Mythbustin' on ol' Grant Imahara, shall we?

LW: What kinds of things did you make as a kid? How did you play with your toys?

GI: I was hard on my toy cars. I used to pull their wheels off. I would try to take apart anything I could get my hands on, including the remote controls and my grandfather's pocket watch. Eventually, my parents caught on and bought me my first LEGO set. I got many more sets after that, and built whatever I could think of. LEGO is great, because it's a logical system. There are rules to how things fit together, BUT you can make whatever you want within that system. I like to think of them as engineer training tools.

LW: How did you land your gig at Lucasfilm?

GI: I originally landed my position at Lucasfilm in the THX Division at Skywalker Ranch. I was an engineer responsible for testing all the latest THX sound equipment and making sure it was up to spec. I basically blew up loudspeakers and amplifiers for a living. When I was in college at USC, my mentor Tom Holman got me an internship working at THX. (It was easy, because he is the TH in THX, which stands for Tom Holman's eXperiment.) I think I must have impressed them enough to want to hire me back, because after I graduated, off to Skywalker Ranch I went.

LW: How did you first get into model making?

GI: Through my friends Don Bies and Nelson Hall. I got to know them when I was working at Skywalker Ranch at the THX Division. They worked in the Archives, where all the models and props and costumes were kept (in those days) from all the Lucasfilm movies. They returned to work at the Model Shop at Industrial Light and Magic, and one day, I got a call from them to help out on a two-week gig. That turned into a 10-year career making models and robots for the movies.

LW: What was it like working with George?

GI: In all those years, I never worked directly with George. Actually, GWL (as they call him) meets with his Art Director (Doug Chiang) and Visual Effects Supervisor (John Knoll) to convey his vision. Then those guys work with the model show supervisors (Steve Gawley and Brian Gernand) who then meet with the model project supervisors who then tell me what they need. Everything was shrouded in secrecy. No one could read the scripts with going to a small room and reading it there. And even then, only supervisors had that privilege. All the artwork was watermarked. It was very hush-hush.

LW: Did you ever talk to him?

GI: I think I may have said "hi" once or twice. You have to realize that when George is at a company party, it's like the parting of the Red Sea wherever he walks. I did once have the opportunity to meet him, but I had a firm deadline and didn't get the chance. I was working on a movie called Galaxy Quest, which is a spoof of Star Trek. Their version of the Enterprise is called the Protector. We had built a scale model of the Protector that was about eight feet in diameter (which is pretty big for a physical model). I was installing the lights that simulate the warp engines and was terribly behind schedule. This was also after a large shipment of Star Wars-related crew gear had arrived from The Phantom Menace. Suddenly, a number of people came in and announced that George was doing an impromptu autograph signing, and that he would sign anything. A rush of people ran out, but sadly I had to stay. I heard that he graciously signed autographs for something like three hours, which (as I now know) is a long time.

LW: What did you get to work on? Most frustrating? Most learning? Most hated? Most awesome?

GI: My work consisted of anything that lit up or moved, so that usually meant lights inside of spaceships and buildings, and animatronics (i.e. robots). I've done tons of robots including R2-D2 and the Energizer Bunny. It's hard to pin down all the models because every movie had multiple sequences for us to work on, which meant multiple models (ships, buildings, robots, whatever). I had minor frustrations, but they weren't really all that bad. It was a dream job, and I was lucky to have it. The best part was the incredibly talented team of people we had at ILM. Everyone had different specialties and we worked in small teams that rotated depending upon the job. I felt like together we were capable of making just about anything (with enough time and money, of course). I'm fortunate to work with some members of that team now on MythBusters.

LW: Why on earth would you ever leave Lucas?

GI: I had finished the final chapter of the prequels and started to notice that the work available for traditional practical modelmakers was dwindling. Moreover, everything was going the computer graphics route. Right around that time, I got a call from my friend Jamie Hyneman, asking me to audition again for MythBusters. (I had been asked before, but declined, having just completed a grueling experience on another reality show called Junkyard Wars.) It's interesting, though. Some people are "lifers," meaning they spend their entire career there, and I can definitely see why. If the model work had not declined and if I hadn't gotten the call from Jamie, I'd still be happily making robots and miniatures. Plus, they do holiday parties really well. Fourth of July, Halloween and Christmas are all great parties.

LW: What’s it like being caught in the middle of a Jamie and Adam argument?

GI: I don't think I've ever seen this. I have seen a disagreement here or there, but it's quite a civilized discussion. Jamie responds well to logic, and Adam is quite persuasive. They also have a deep amount of trust between them, and I think this helps a lot in these situations. In real life, they are in fact very much like you see them on television.

LW: So, what’s up with you and Craig Ferguson? Are you guys bffs?

GI: I wish! He's a big MythBusters fan and an awesome guy. I've been on his show as a guest multiple times and through cameos of me building his robot skeleton sidekick, Geoff Peterson. The amazing thing about Craig is that he's willing to try new and creative things that other late night hosts won't, and manages to pull it off every time.

LW: Most importantly, is Geoff the Robot single?

GI: He is, but I can't speak to his preferences. I can however give you his IP address if you contact him. He's also Twitter-enabled. You can find at @GeoffTheRobot.

LW: Lastly, Grant can I ask you to put on my Princess Leia buns?

GI: If I must, but it's only because we're old friends. You ask EVERYone to put these on, do you? Do you??

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