“I never wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be Q.”
Grant Imahara, a USC Viterbi School of Engineering alumnus, B.S. EE ’93, who cohosted the Discovery Channel’s popular science show “MythBusters” for nearly a decade and Netflix’s “White Rabbit Project,” has died. He was 49.
Imahara, a roboticist and former animatronics engineering and model maker on George Lucas‘ “Star Wars” prequels, as well as “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” died on July 13.
Imahara joined “MythBusters” in its third season in 2005 and shot more than 200 episodes over the next nine years. Lovingly referred to as the “geek” of the show’s build team, he leveraged his technical expertise to design and build robots and operate the computers and electronics needed to test myths, according to the Washington Post. He left “MythBusters” in 2014, along with cohosts Kari Byron and Tory Belleci. The trio reunited in 2016 for “White Rabbit Project,” which lasted for one season, the Hollywood Reporter reported.
“We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Grant,” a Discovery representative said in a statement. “He was an important part of our Discovery family and a really wonderful man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
More recently, Imahara built a Baby Yoda to tour children’s hospitals, according to NPR. “Pleased to present my newest creation: a fully animatronic Baby Yoda,” he wrote on his Facebook page in March.
Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 23, 1970, Imahara studied electrical engineering at USC Viterbi. However, due to his love of motion pictures, a counselor recommended that he talk to Tomlinson Holman, a former 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 has said. The year working for Holman gave Imahara a new outlook on engineering.
With Holman’s help, Imahara later landed 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 his time at Lucasfilms, Imahara worked on visual effects on blockbusters such as the “Star Wars” prequel trilogies and “The Matrix” franchises. Other movies for which he created models at ILM include the “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” He was one of the few officially trained operators for R2-D2, the droid of the “Star Wars” universe.
Imahara also engineered the Energizer Bunny’s popular rhythmic beat.
A true polymath, he starred in several episodes of the fan-made web series “Star Trek Continues,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. Imahara played Hikaru Sulu, a lieutenant, helmsman and third officer on the USS Enterprise, in the show that was an unofficial continuation of “Star Trek: The Original Series.”
Imahara also built a robot that became a champion on “BattleBots,” the robot fighting show that ran on Comedy Central from 2000 to 2002, the New York Times said. A year later, he published a book, “Kickin’ Bot: An Illustrated Guide to Building Combat Robots.”
In a 2008 interview with Machine Design, Imahara said he wanted to become an engineer because “I liked the challenge of designing and building things, figuring out how something works and how to make it better or apply it in a different way. When I was a kid, I never wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be Q, because he was the guy who made all the gadgets. I guess you could say that engineering came naturally.”