Grant Imahara, one of the stars of Discovery’s Mythbusters and Netflix’s White Rabbit Project, and a prolific engineer who worked on films and competed on Battlebots, has died at age 49.
He “died suddenly following a brain aneurysm,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Grant joined Mythbusters in its third season, joining Kari Byron and Tory Bellici on the build team. They stayed with the show, as a trio, through season 16, when they were fired. Discovery kept the show going with only its two primary hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, for two more seasons, before cancelling it and replacing them with new Mythbusters.
In a statement posted to social media, the Discovery Channel said, “We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Grant. He was an important part of our Discovery family and a really wonderful man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Fellow Build Team member Kari Byron tweeted, “Heartbroken and in shock tonight. We were just talking on the phone. This isn’t real.” Tory Belleci tweeted, “I just cannot believe it. I don’t even know what to say. My heart is broken.”
Adam Savage tweeted, “Grant was a truly brilliant engineer, artist and performer, but also just such a generous, easygoing, and gentle PERSON. Working with Grant was so much fun. I’ll miss my friend.”
Grant’s work ranged from R2-D2 to Spider-Man
Besides Mythbusters and The White Rabbit Project, Grant appeared as a contestant on Battlebots, with his robot Deadblow, which went on to make several appearances on the Discovery Channel show. He even wrote a book about it: Kickin’ Bot: An Illustrated Guide to Building Combat Robots.
Grant also competed on Junkyard Mega-Wars, leading a team from Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on models and visual effects for films from The Lost World: Jurassic Park to The Matrix’s two sequels to Galaxy Quest.
In 2014, Grant partnered with Mouser Electronics, creating a series of web videos called “Empowering Innovation Together.”
Before becoming a Mythbuster, Grant worked in movie special effects as an animatronics engineer and modelmaker for George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic in Marin County, California. He specialized in electronics and radio control at the ILM Model Shop, and has credits on numerous movies, including Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Galaxy Quest, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions, and most recently, Van Helsing and Star Wars: Episode III.
He installed electronics in the R2-D2 units for Star Wars Episodes I and II, replacing the halogen light source and rotating color wheel (for the sparkly displays) with a custom microcontroller-based LED circuit that was originally created to make the pulsating lights for the main engines of the Protector, from Galaxy Quest. He also upgraded all of the radio equipment and speed controls to modern standards. Along with R2-D2 Crew Chief Don Bies and Nelson Hall, he was one of only three official R2-D2 operators in the United States.
Grant developed a custom circuit to cycle the Energizer Bunny’s arm beats and ears at a constant rate. He performed all electronics installation and radio programming on the current generation of Bunnies. He later became the Bunny’s driver and the Crew Supervisor on numerous commercials in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Mexico, and New Zealand.
For fun, Grant competed in Comedy Central’s BattleBots with his fighting robot “Deadblow,” which he designed and built from scratch. Deadblow won two Middleweight Rumbles and was the Middleweight runner-up in 2000. It set a record for most number of hits in the first season of the show, and was ranked number one in Season 3.0.
In 2003, Wiley Technology Publishing released Grant’s book Kickin’ Bot: An Illustrated Guide to Building Combat Robots. At 528 pages long, it is regarded by many in the combat robot-building community as the “bible” for that sport. It has a five-star average customer review on Amazon.com.
Grant appeared on TLC’s Junkyard Wars in a two-hour special called “Junkyard Wars Goes to the Movies” as the captain of Team ILM. They created a 13-foot tall R2-D2 out of junk in 20 hours that was equipped with a flamethrower, hydraulic lifting arm and CO2 pneumatic projectile gun. Team ILM won the competition, which challenged the junkyard machines to destroy a fleet of attacking aliens with their various weapons.
Most recently, Grant designed and built the rude and often irreverent robot skeleton sidekick Geoff Peterson for the popular CBS late night talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Grant has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California and is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He has been on the cover of ROBOT Magazine, IEEE Spectrum, and MAKE Magazine. Over the years, he has garnered numerous official commendations from various organizations, including the City of Los Angeles, the City of San Francisco, and The White House.