Have Soldering Gun, Will Travel

the Joe-Mammy.com interview with Grant Imahara.

The love affair here at Joe-Mammy.com with Mythbusters continues. Of course it helps that the folks on the show are actually interesting. I was thrilled when Mythbusters' resident animatronic guru and killer machine designer Grant Imahara said he'd come by for an interview.

We chatted about sword swinging devices, blowing up speakers and the fine art of being C-3PO. Sit back, relax and enjoy the collective fun that is Grant's interview.



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Joe: Let's get started with a little background. Looks like you were California born and bred?

Grant: Yeah, that's correct. I grew up in Southern California. We actually moved around quite a bit. I think I ended up going to something like five or six elementary schools in the course of my education. Not because I was a trouble maker (chuckles) but because my father liked to move around a lot so there you have it. I was perpetually the new kid.

Joe: That's always fun.

Grant: I actually think that was a pretty good deal. Not that I'm advocating people move their kids around a lot, but it kind of forced me to figure out how to integrate into a little group very quickly after having to do it at that age. Of course in elementary school kids aren't always kind so I got very good at getting the feeling very quickly for the flow of things and working into groups and assimilating myself as quickly and easily as possible.

Joe: That was primarily in grade school that you were moving around a lot?

Grant: Yeah. When I finally got to junior high and high school I stayed at one junior high and then one high school, so I had a little bit more stability there.

Joe: From what I was reading it looked like you were always interested in science and application stuff. You also did some screenwriting?

Grant: speaker Yes. I was one of those kids from an early age I would take stuff apart. I wondered how things worked. I played with Lego. Not unlike I think the majority of professional engineers these days, the Lego had a big impact on my ability to work with modular systems and be able to fit things together and work around certain problems.

The really cool thing about it is Lego is a system but it does have limitations and it's up to you to figure out how to use the blocks that you have to get to where you want to be. It's actually quite clever in that way and a really good exercise for me. I've always been taking things apart and of course you know it wasn't until much later on until I was able to put them back together. You end up with a whole collection of Matchbox cars with only two wheels on them. My mom was much happier when I started putting things back together. Of course you always have extra parts; that's just a universal law. That curiosity I think is what guided me into engineering.

On the flip side I've always been a good writer with good verbal skills. At one point I had a teacher in high school — I remember her now, Mrs. Duffy, who really influenced me and encouraged me and enjoyed the writing I did for her class which was an advanced composition class. It was an advanced composition class and every week we'd have to write some form of analysis or perhaps a creative piece. From that encouragement of my writing skill I thought that was something I wanted to pursue as well

Joe: As far as writing, were there specific genres you were interested in?

Grant: I think as far as writing goes — for me as someone who thought perhaps maybe I'd like to be a screenwriter I was interested in dramas. In my creative writing that was what I had the most success in. Comedy is hard, although I have dabbled in comedy. Comedy is hard and you can tell a joke live and it's so funny and then write it down and then "oh that sucks." Mostly it was dramatic writing that sparked my interest.

Now needless to say I didn't get very far with screenwriting and speaker the story goes I was in my sophomore year of studying engineering at USC. One day — I'd been taking a lot of units and under a lot stress — and I finally just decided engineering isn't for me. I decided that I'm going to take this step for myself and say, "You know what, I've got try something else." So I quit all my classes and then decided to explore some of my other interests as a possible, fairly drastic, career change. Of course my mother was very supportive which surprised me, but now in retrospect she's always had the philosophy she's wanted me to be happy with what I was doing because it would be hard for me to be successful if I didn't really love what I was doing. So she went along with it.

As a part of this process of discovery I decided that the screenwriting would be something I would be interested in so I went to USC's Cinema school. The Cinema School at USC is world-renowned — George Lucas, Walter Murch, numerous talented people have passed through those doors, so you can imagine that when a sophomore engineering student shows up on the doorstep of one of the advisors asking to audit a class there they're not going to be entirely apt to grant that request. They did speak to me at some length, the conversation went something like:

"Would you mind if I visited one of you cinema classes?"

"Uh, sorry Grant, but the answer is no."

"Okay, how about if I audit?"


"Okay, how about if I — "


So after some of this back and forth the advisor said "What are your interests?" I told him I had interest in sound and that I'd been in engineering school and the whole nine yards. He said "Let me tell ya what, why don't you go downstairs and talk to Tom Holman. He's one of our professors here at the Cinema School but he also invented the THX sound system. Just go and talk to him and see what you think about what he does." And I was like, "Really? Okay."

So I went downstairs. I found Tom's office and he happened to be in there and went in and said "Mr. Holman, did you invent the THX sound system?" And he said "Why yes I did."

Tom is the classic professor. Tiny office but every horizontal surface is piled sky high — we're talking not just two inches of paper, we're talking two feet of paper. SMPTE, AES, IEEE, all the professional organizations related to cinema sound, he was a member of all these societies and he had papers everywhere. And then I saw my moment, in my mind I was trying think "How can I be around Tom and be exposed to this environment?" I saw that the condition of his office and that's when I knew I had to be Tom Holman's personal assistant. This was after I'd met him initially and then went away and thought a little while and came back and chatted with him a bit, so probably by the third meeting I said "You know what, Tom, I think you need a personal assistant." And he goes "Great." Next question was: "Do I have to pay you?" I said "No, I will work for free. I will clean your office. I'll organize all your papers and all your files." That's how it started.

I went into Tom's office and as part of the agreement he said "Okay, but you'll have to read everything I that give you." So I said "Okay, great." So he gave me all these papers to read, "You'll find this interesting," and hand me something. I started reading all these things and they were about audio engineering and a little bit of electrical engineering and acoustics and it was really a great time of my life. He'd take me to meetings and introduce me to people and eventually this led to some research. He said, "You know Grant I've got something for you to research." So then over the next six months I proceeded to test nearly every pair of Sony MDR V6 headphones in the greater Los Angeles region.

My job was to come up with a characterization curve for that particular headphone because it was a project to make the headphones sound more like a live space for mixers of movies — audio mixers. Through this research — and of course I test all these headphones and I've got a live mannequin, a KEMAR mannequin which is used for audio testing, not unlike how we use Buster these days on Mythbusters — we had our own crash-test dummy shaped mannequin on which I'd set these headphones. After a couple hundred pair of headphones, thousands of curves, millions of calculations I came up with one master curve. And so I have this one curve; I printed it out, I've done all these calculations and this is essentially the conclusion of the project. So I go "Tom, here it is" and he looks at it and says "Oh, great," and then it goes right back on the shelf — the very shelf that I'd cleaned! But of course he guaranteed me later on he did in fact go back to the curve and what's more created some sort product out of it. At the time I was like "It's going back to the point of no return over there," but he assured me he knew exactly where everything was in his office. So actually through the mentorship relationship with all of this exposure to the end goal of engineering, what would have been my engineering education I was inspired to actually re-enroll in electrical engineering — picked up all my classes right where I left them and completed my engineering degree in another two years and right after graduation actually went to work for Tom at THX which is how I essentially started my movie career.

Joe: It's quite the career. It's pretty much the geek fantasy the kind of projects you've gotten to work on. Are there any favorite projects or particular memories that you can share without fear that George Lucas will hunt you down?

Grant: There are numerous, numerous stories. It's actually hard to narrow down. Let me think here. Which can I tell (laughs) that won't get me into trouble in one way or another.

Joe: You can change the names if that will help.

Grant: (laughs) Somehow, I don't know. This guy, we'll call him — no, let's see.

speaker Two guys that I had met while working at THX at Skywalker Ranch had a really big impact on my life and they were Don Bies and Nelson Hall. At the time they were the archivists for Lucasfilms so all the models and all the props from Stars Wars through Indiana Jones to Willow all the way back to Howard the Duck were in this secure building which was probably the second most secure area of Skywalker Ranch next to the second floor of the main house which is George's office. I guess technically it would be the third floor of the main house at sometimes which would be the Star Wars art department, but anyway. Don and Nelson were archivists; they also worked for Industrial Light and Magic, George's special effects studio in San Rafael. We got to be friends through mutual acquaintances.

We ended up having lunch numerous times and one day at lunch Don and Nelson were discussing an upcoming event. It was a licensing event and marketing press junket of sorts. It was for the, I think it was something like the release of the trilogy on laserdisc (laughs) you can imagine the box set on laserdisc which will date how far back this was. Way before the special edition, way before all the re-releases, this was way back. For this press junket really what they wanted to do was whip up enthusiasm about Star Wars again because it had been a long time since something had happened in the Star Wars universe. So the marketing people wanted to invite key press as well as key licensees who might be interested in merchandise. They wanted to invite them to Skywalker Ranch for a very special evening. As part of this, this whole reintroduction of the trilogy, they wanted to have some of the characters appear. This was way before Star Wars Episodes 1, 2 and 3. The last major Star Wars movie was Return of the Jedi so we're talking at that time '83 or something. So they wanted to have some costume characters appear. Who of course speaks more to the Star Wars universe more than R2-D2 and C-3PO? Well, the problem is this is sort of an internal event and the licensees are coming from all over the world, that's true, but it's not a huge budget event. To fly Anthony Daniels — who portrayed C-3PO for all those Star Wars movies — to fly him in from London for this event would be cost prohibitive. Probably that ticket cost more than what they had dedicated numerous other things as well as paying for his time and that sort of thing. So Don and Nelson are discussing these difficulties:

"Yeah, I don't know, what are we going to do? Maybe hire a local actor? I mean, he'd have to be about Grant's size."

And then they both stop and look at each other. And Don looks at me across the table and says "What are you doing after lunch."

"I dunno, blowing up loud speakers," which was my job at THX.

"Why don't you stop by the archive building?"


So I go to the archive building and less than 20 minutes later I'm in the archive building and Don and Nelson are there and they've got the costume laid out in anticipation of the upcoming event they're archiving all the pieces making sure everything's there. "Well okay, you're just about the right size." Because back then I was a lot skinnier than I am now. So piece by piece we tried the costume on and the legs, my legs were a little short, maybe an inch or two short but for a quick thing and this is literally a three minute skit featuring involving R2, 3PO and some marketing people so for something that short no one would ever know. They put all the pieces and it actually takes a while. Maybe another twenty minutes, half hour go by, piece by piece putting everything until finally I was in the entire costume — a real C-3PO costume — and they put the head and you can barely see or hear or breathe. Literally you have two quarter inch brass tubes to look out to see who you're talking to. They're like "Are you okay?" And I'm like "Yes I'm okay." They were like "Wait, we forgot something," and so Don reaches around the back and switches on the little battery pack that turns on the eyes — the eyes have lights on them. He reaches around the back, flips on the switch and I swear, these two grown men who work with Star Wars everyday went (gasps) and they both took a step back like that was the thing that completed the illusion. That started a secret career within Lucasfilm that went for, had to be 10 years.

I wasn't the only one who was portraying famous costumed Star Wars characters we actually had quite a group of them going. There were two guys who played Darth Vader: Tom Bewley and C. Andrew Nelson. We had a guy who played Chewbacca, Mike Healey. Me and then Nelson and Don would switch off puppeteering R2. We were just this ragtag band of performers that traveled essentially all over the world for personal appearances, commercials, theater openings, anything where you needed one of these characters to appear. The question is, what did you do when you had to speak? Whenever you're in public it's like being a Disney character, you just don't speak. That was true for both me and Vader. For Chewbacca it was easy because he could just go (wookie noise) and that would be enough. But if it were an official function Tony Daniels would sit in a studio in London and record the soundtrack and I'd get the tape maybe a day or two ahead of time to kind of rehearse my dialogue essentially and they'd play it over a loudspeaker and I'd mime the movements. I got to go to Turkey, Japan, Australia. I shook Rupert Murdoch's hand within the C-3PO costume, but still, shaking his hand, entering a secret code on a stage in Australia as a full size X-Wing fighter lands on stage and fireworks go off. That's the opening of Fox Studios Australia. It's kinda like being the Impossible Mission force because if anyone finds about your existence I'm sure Lucasfilm would deny any knowledge of your name or who you are or what you're doing. (laughs) It was a fantastic ride.

Joe: It sounds like a lot of fun. It sounds like you were working on that from your early twenties on.

Grant: Yeah.

Joe: That's a pretty influential time for a lot of people. What kind of lessons do you think you learned about how you approach your work or how you approach life in general?

Grant: I think the number one thing that I learned in my professional life was never be afraid to take advantage of an opportunity. Or rather, be afraid to take advantage of an opportunity because it's hard not to be scared witless but don't let that stop you. I remember when I worked at THX I was a licensing engineer charged with blowing up loudspeakers, amplifiers, surround sound controllers and then reporting back to the manufacturers telling them what their deficiencies were. Again and Don and Nelson came in and said "You know what, Grant? There's an opening at Industrial Light and Magic in the model shop. There's a guy there named Jon Foreman who does electronics for the movies — miniature light bulbs in buildings in space ships and robots. You know what, this is all stuff we know that you can do, do you want to do it?"

"I don't know, do you think I can do something like that?"


At the time I was employed full time at THX and I was like, gosh, what do I do? In my adult life I hadn't had many sleepless nights but that was certainly one of them. I said "Okay, let me think about it, I have talk to my boss." So I went to Monica Dashwood who was general manager of THX at the time. "Monica, what do I do? I have this great opportunity but I don't want to let you guys down here. I've got a great job as an engineer, it's very stable." And she's like "Look Grant, this is what I always do. If you have the opportunity to do something cool that may never come again — DO IT." So I was "Okay, I'll need a two week leave of absence," and nine years later I was still working at ILM. So that's my piece of advice, don't' be afraid to meet opportunity head on.

Joe: Was that where you met Tory Belleci?

Grant: At ILM in the model shop there's roughly two phases that a model goes through. There's build which can last anywhere from two weeks to six months or in the case of a Federation Battleship eight or ten months I think and then there's the shooting. Usually teams of six or eight up to a dozen maybe two dozen model makers with various specialties will work on building the model. After the model's completed and it goes to shooting you only have two or three support personnel just to touch up the model, make sure all the lights are working, help the people who are actually photographing the model for the movie move it around and set it up and make sure the stage crew has everything they need to do the job. That's where I met Tory on stage because Tory — speaker now you don't get the sense from Mythbusters exactly how talented a model maker Tory is

and over our careers at ILM we were charged with working with things on a really microscopic level, really small things, but on Mythbusters you never get to see any of us doing the things what we were really good at in our previous careers, except for maybe I get to do some of the animatronic like things on the show — but you don't really get the sense of how good a model maker Tory really is because we don't work on that scale. But he's a really good model maker, really fast, steady hands and just good at working out problems. On stage they say it's two hours of boredom punctuated by thirty seconds of sheer terror because we're using these giant computer-controlled cameras but occasionally they'll make a programming mistake and crash the camera into the model or they'll find out "oh my gosh we're looking at the wrong side of the model," he's got to whip something together and make it look good because the entire shooting crew is waiting on you. Tory was really good at working out those kind of problems and painting and sculpting — everything that you need to do on stage except electronics and that's where I came in. In order to cover all the bases for the shooting crew they would assign a regular model maker, paint and sculpt and do minor fixes and then someone who knew the electronics. We'd often be paired together because our complimentary skill sets but also because we worked together as a team very well.

After you've done two or three of them you get to know the jokes and the rhythm of how we work together. We would be paired together probably, I don't know, eight maybe ten times on numerous projects we were the team that went out to the stage with the model. The Federation Starship on Star Wars, culminating in the Castle Dracula set for "Van Helsing" which was a massive, massive model, probably about fifteen feet tall and sprawling and it was at the completion of that very project that Tory left ILM to go work on Mythbusters. That kind of camaraderie that you see on the show, the kind of playful joking, that's something that comes with years of experience of working together. I think that was one of the reasons I got the job on Mythbusters because I already knew Tory and I knew Adam and I knew Jamie from many years of working together and that kind of chemistry is very difficult to just jump into, it develops over time. What you see on camera us a reflection of what we've already had established in real life.

Joe: Since you've joined the cast — that's, what, two or three years?

Grant: I think it's been two, two and a half years. It's crazy.

Joe: Part of it has been because the build team has taken center stage more, but it looks like you guys are having a blast even when you guys are doing something that doesn't look like that much fun.

Grant: (laughs) Let me tell ya, it's the magic of editing that takes out the moments that makes it look like the best fun. In fact we'll look back, Kari's looked back on episodes and said "Wow, that totally looks like we're having the best time of our lives, but I remember that was hard!" So it's a truly a testament to the writers, editors and producers in Australia, where the show is actually edited and assembled for TV, that they can take a grind and turn it into something that looks like fun, something that looks like we're having a good time that's really entertaining to watch because some of the stuff is not so entertaining to live through. To our credit — some of it. Some of the things we do I can't believe I'm getting paid to do. I think it goes both ways.

Joe: As far as the show how did you meet Adam and Jamie? I know you were in BattleBots together, did you know them before that?

Grant: Yeah. I'll start with Adam.

speaker Adam had come to ILM I think 2-3 years after I'd been there so he was the new kid on the block. In the movie business it's one of the few businesses where time actually is money. And the faster a model maker is, the better they are and it's a bonus if you're actually fast and your work is very tight and very detailed. Adam came in to the shop to work on a series of commercials for a bank. They were really high budget commercials and at the time we were working on a number of projects: I think it was Starship Troopers, a Star Trek movie and I think there were one or two other movies. It was a period of great expansion for the model shop and we had to bring in new talent.

Adam came in and I couldn't believe how fast and how good he was at making models. Not just the basic shape of a model but he could do everything; he could assemble the models, he could paint them, age them and his scale was perfect and he was incredibly fast to boot. Quickly he went from being the new kid to an A-list model maker virtually overnight. We actually got to become friends because we have similar geeky interests — no surprises there. (chuckles) He actually helped me out on my first battlebot. He was my battlebot crew in Long Beach in 1999. It was me and him and one of his friends and his friend wasn't technically inclined he was more documenting the whole event, but it was essentially me and Adam. I like to tell a story of me and Adam that is famous around the model shop and that is even before Adam was on TV he would run around the shop everyday making things as if there was a television crew following him. He was that fast. That was his personality. That exactly the same personality he had in the shop as he has on the show. That's not a character that he puts on for Mythbusters, that's Adam so it was a blast to work with him and to be around him. You just had to watch out if you were working around him because he would be going so fast that something would fall over or he'd bump into you or something else would happen. It was great fun working with him and getting to know him.

speaker Jamie I had met during Robot Wars. This was way back before Robot Wars was on TV in England. It was before BattleBots was on TV here in the US. The true beginnings of robot combat was Robot Wars and that was here in San Francisco. The very first Robot Wars, many people from ILM participated because it was founded by Marc Thorpe who used to work at ILM. He said "Hey, I've got this great idea for putting a chainsaw on a remote control car." And if you work at ILM you know that are a dozen guys at ILM who not only think that it's a great idea but can say that OOh, yeah, I've got something just like that in my garage." This is the natural choice of people to get to help you host your robot combat event. Well I personally attended the second Robot Wars and got to see the carnage up close. That's when I met Jamie for the first time. People ask me "The beret and the mustache and the voice, is that all a character he came up with for this wacky show Mythbusters?" No, he's been that way ever since I've known him. This is going on 9 or 10 years now. That's just what his look was.

He had a robot there; this was way before I had my own combat robot. His robot was Blendo and at one time — Blendo was this spinning dome that's got steel blades at the bottom, it's incredibly fast and it builds an a huge amount of inertia and stores a great amount of energy — at one time Blendo was the most feared robot in all of robot combat. There were entire message boards dedicated to how to beat Blendo. At one particular robot competition the organizers were so afraid of Blendo throwing shrapnel of other robots into the audience that they got together and they went to Jamie and said "Jamie, here's the trophy, here is the money. You win. Please take your robot and go home before someone in the audience gets hurt." (in a Jamie voice) "Oh, alright."

Now that was the first time I met Jamie but I didn't get to know him very well. He was a very imposing character in those days — as opposed to the cuddly teddy bear that we know now. He came to ILM a little bit later, maybe a year later or so. He was working on a commercial, he didn't work at ILM, he had his shop M5 which he still does, but there was a project that required someone with animatronic experience. It was a couple of puppets that were talking gophers for Fox Sports Net so Jamie came to ILM to work with us a little while. At that time I had been established as the radio controlled guru. The first words that Jamie said to me professionally "So I hear that you're the radio control expert — the local radio control expert."

"Eh, I'm just the leper with the most fingers."

And he started giggling. Every once in a while you'll hear Jamie giggle on the show. That really set the tone for our friendship. Over the next several years we would talk about robots and animatronics and he would actually hire me on nights and weekends to come work at M5 to finish off various projects he had for commercials. Whenever he felt like he wanted an ace to come in to finish of that last bit of radio programming or figure out some little problem there he would call me and I would come in and work for him. I would just come and visit. Sometimes we'd go to swap meets. Here in the Bay Area we actually have a really cool technical swap meet that happens the first Sunday of every month at Foothills College, we'd go to that. We'd go to surplus places and look for stuff. It was a lot of fun. Those were all interests we share now — mechanics and robotics.

Joe: I know when I spoke with Kari she mentioned what a close knit group you were. It seems — I'm not sure easy-going personalities but real good personalities as far as being able to work together and hang out together.

Grant: Absolutely. At my experience at ILM I worked among professionals and these people who were consider the elite — at the top of their game. In this industry they were the number one people and that sort of professional interaction, it's not like there's any sort of ego or — there's really nothing to prove, I guess. We'd just work together and slam through these various models because, again, time is money and that sort of interaction has carried over to Mythbusters. We get along just as well as we did then; we don't have to prove that we're Mythbusters, we don't have to prove we're good fabricators or good at what we do and as a result of that feeling of confidence or whatever you want to call it we get along very well. People may wonder if that's a model for a utopian society, kind of how they were on Star Trek — no one ever argues on Star Trek. (chuckles) I think that on our show it's generally true. It's not that we never have disagreements because certainly when you are designing anything and whenever you have a group of people working something there will be disagreements how things should be done or opinions what might or might not be a better way to go but to our credit we'll consider the various arguments and usually if you're building something one person that will be their project. You can make your suggestions but in the end it will be up to that person to decide whether or not, to assimilate that information and decide which way to go. It's a lot of fun. Working with these people for so many years helps a lot, too. You've known them. What's more, particularly with Tory and Adam we've been on sets together sitting in the dark for three hours during a lighting pass on some model so we've got that history. That history is hard to beat.

Joe: As far as the show goes have there been any projects you've enjoyed working on more than others or ones that have had a certain "holy crap" factor for you?

Grant: speaker I think that for me the projects I like best are the really dangerous ones where I get to build some machine under normal circumstances people would think I'd be crazy to build. The one that comes to mind is the sword swinging rig. The idea is that we have to build something to swing a sword at human capacity — as quickly and in the same way as a real swordsman would swing a sword. We built in several ways to calibrate the machine to make sure it's swinging at what a human can swing and it all works out great.

The great thing about our show is that if it doesn't work at human capacity then you say "Okay, well the myth is busted," but then we go that extra step to see: "Well, if it doesn't work at human capacity what would it take to cut a sword with another sword. How much force would it take?" And that's where you get into the truly deadly region. It still astounds me every time I have to build something like that that people will give me money to build truly deadly devices. They will give me time and money and resources to let me do it and film it for what's more to show people these cool things that we've made. It turns out just by accident to be at decapitation height. Of course we're all squatting down as we're arming it to make sure we don't get our heads chopped off by accident. The way that you know that you've built something truly dangerous is that the first time you're about to turn it on, everyone on the crew, including yourself will take a little unconscious step backwards. It's those great moments when you build something and it executes and it chops the sword or it makes this really big collision, those are the moments I live for and those are the things that are so much fun to build.

Joe: So any time you see that blast chamber that you guys have and you guys are around it, that's a good day for Grant?

Grant: Yeah. Anytime we're in our bunker and we've got a machine that we've set up that's a good day because that means whatever we're doing is really, really dangerous.

Joe: So you're not so much the explosive ones, you like the ones you have to build something to the damage for you?

Grant: I think that because I'm kind of a gearhead I tend to gravitate towards the building machine myths rather than the explosion myths. If you ask any Mythbusters fan, any cross section of Mythbusters fans across the nation I think that moreover you'd have an 80% likelihood that their favorite episode would be the cement truck blowing up. That's certainly true that explosions in our world, in our Mythbusters world, but for me I tend to like the building things, mechanical things better.

Joe: You mentioned the sword machine, was that the same as the exploding hammer rig or was that a different one?

Grant: The exploding hammer rig, there's actually a few we used on that one. Tory made one that has two arms that start out at their sides and then swing down to crash the hammers together. On the revisit I actually took the sword swinging rig, flopped it on its side and put a hammer in that so we used it for that. Most recently it's been used to swing al bat for a series of baseball myths we're doing. We tend to recycle. If we have a real cool piece of machinery that we've built chances are it's going to stick around the shop and you'll see it in a future episode like the chicken cannon, the hammer swinging thing that Tory built and the sword swinger.

Joe: Were there any other favorite rigs that come to mind?

Grant: speaker For our baseball episode we had to build something that would hit a baseball consistently. It would swing the bat into a baseball and shoot it out into the distance. For us the obvious choice for this particular machine would have been sword swinger. Unfortunately Adam and Jamie had already snagged to do one of their myths on corked bats so we were left with having to come up with a new machine to do that. This machine I decided — now sword swinger is pneumatic, it's got a giant air ram on it that deploys very quickly that pulls a chain that turns a sprocket that turns its shaft and swings a sword — I decided for the new robot I wanted to try something electric. As the heart I chose probably the biggest, baddest electric motor that you can possibly find in robot combat. It's the motor you choose when you absolutely, positively have to destroy every other robot in the room. This is the one. I put this onto a plate with two huge sprockets. These sprockets they're borderline the kind of thing where you see in movies where it's just kind of ridiculous scale. It's like a Warner Brothers cartoon ACME sprocket. It's this giant nearly two foot diameter sprocket and there are two of them. So the motor turns the chain that turns the sprockets, those turn two shafts and that just in itself is a really cool looking element — two giant sprockets, giant motor, chain running all around. The cool thing about the robot — Tory came up with this idea and the idea is that you have a bat being swung on one shaft and a ball being held by some sort of ball holding device on the other shaft, by having the two rotate by the same chain in the chain and sprocket system you can set it up so bat and ball are touching to begin with back to back and then when they turn, ball turns, bat turns through one complete rotation and at the end of that rotation ball and bat meet and every time the bat hits the ball perfectly. That's my new favorite machine that I've built. The great thing about the show is that I get to paid to build all kinds of different machines and wherever it's a situation that's too dangerous for a human I'll be called upon to make a machine that shoots an arrow or one that swings a sword or one that can actually use a Slim Jim to pick a lock on a car or one that moves a toaster that simulates someone sticking a knife in a toaster. It's this crazy, crazy training in making mechanical devices very quickly and making them very efficiently.

Joe: I'm not a huge science person but one thing I've always liked about the show is the way everyone is able to break down a problem and go through it methodically and find new ways to go about it. That's why the revisit episodes are fun because it's taking something and trying it another way even after the first attempts.

Grant: Right.

Joe: It must be exhilarating to come into work and try and figure out "how am I going to get the ball to hit the bat?" or something like that.

Grant: Oh yeah. Something about the show that a lot of people don't know that is in reality it's just us. Many people assume that there's a team of unseen engineers and builders who build these things in the background and go away when the cameras come and we step in and do our thing. In reality there isn't. It's just the five of us plus Jess our intern making these devices and really the show is about the process of design and building and testing and then failing and making adjustments and then retesting. Because we are the people who have made and designed these devices it makes it a lot easier to be able to diagnose when something goes wrong and figure out a solution. I think that whole process is part of what makes our show so entertaining.

Joe: Any words of advice for the kids at home?

Grant: speaker My words of advice to the kids of home: absolutely positively don't do what you see us do on the show but there are a lot of things you can do at home so keep that interest in science and technology but get your parents pick out a few things that are safe for you to do in your home and leave the really big stuff to us.


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