Grant Imahara ’93 may have the most fun job in the world. A typical day at the office has included building a 7-foot, 3,000-pound, 1-million-piece ball of Legos to roll down a road at a car, trying creative ways to beat a lie detector and taking remote control of a full-size bus to find out how large a chasm it could jump.
It’s all for science, as Imahara tests urban legends for the Discovery Channel series MythBusters.
It’s hard to believe Imahara dropped all his classes during the spring semester of his sophomore year at USC because he couldn’t envision an exciting future in engineering.
He got it in his head that he wanted to be a screenwriter and went to see a counselor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. There he found out what many students have before and since, that one can’t just switch majors to the highly exclusive cinema school.
The counselor was dismissive of Imahara’s plan but sympathetic to his issue. One small suggestion changed the course of the student’s life.
The counselor recommended that he talk to Tomlinson Holman, a professor of cinematic arts known for developing the renowned sound quality-assurance system THX (Tomlinson Holman eXperiment) for Lucasfilm.
Imahara was in awe meeting the man who had revolutionized cinema sound and volunteered to be his personal assistant.
“Not many people came in and asked to work for free,” Holman recalled. “The cinema students didn’t have the time. He had dropped out, so he had the time.”
It ended up being time well spent. The year working for Holman gave Imahara a new outlook on engineering when he returned to classes.
“After working with Tom and being introduced to this world of engineering that has a more creative edge to it, it showed me where I was getting bogged down before,” Imahara said. “He introduced me to something I could potentially do.”
With Holman’s help, Imahara got an internship with THX that led to a full-time job once he completed his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After three years at THX, Imahara moved across Skywalker Ranch to another Lucasfilm company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). During nine years at ILM, he lived the sci-fi fanatic’s dream. The guy who couldn’t see the potential for an interesting career in engineering got to build the updated version of R2-D2 for the Star Wars prequels.
Other movies for which he created models at ILM include the two Matrix sequels, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. More recently, he created the skeleton robot sidekick Geoff Petersen for The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
At the ILM model shop, Imahara worked with future MythBusters hosts Adam Savage and Tory Belleci, then joined them on the show in 2005.
Imahara serves as the electronics expert, the go-to guy when a myth calls for building, say, a robotic arm to swing a sword to test if one sword can really cut the blade off another, as shown in many movie fights.
Now in its ninth season, MythBusters has made science cool for a new generation.
“We shoot guns and jump out of planes and set off huge explosions, but at the core of it all is science,”
Working and living in the Bay Area since graduation, Imahara returned to USC for the first time in 17 years in April to speak to students at Bovard Auditorium about his amazing experiences.
Students questioning the potential for an exciting career in engineering these days need only look at Imahara.