Mythbusters is one of those shows that, if you love technology, you just have to watch. Every episode, special effects gurus Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage are testing myths — and blowing stuff up — and if you tune in, you'll learn a lot. The show is coming to Australia for a live tour in August — here's what you can expect to see.
The Mythbusters: Behind The Myths tour has seven dates across the country in the middle of August, and if you're lucky enough to have a ticket, it looks like it's going to be a great night out. I got a chance to talk to one of the show's hosts, Jamie Hyneman, about what we can expect from the upcoming shows, as well as the Mythbusters' take on technology and the future.
CS: Hi Jamie, how are you? What can Australians expect from the Mythbusters: Behind The Myths tour? What kind of things are you guys going to be bringing along and showing off, and what can attendees of the shows expect to see?
JH: I've just finished a day of being out on location, doing all sorts of destructive things. We had a 5000-pound wrecking ball that we were wrecking some buildings with, so I did that all day long. A lot of what we do is a lot of fun, but then it's also quite hot and a lot of work, so I've had a long day.
When we first started talking about doing a live tour, we understood that there were a lot of constraints about trying to do the kind of things we do on the show — we'd have things like shrapnel in the audience, and that's not going to work very well.
So we thought really hard about it, and what we've come up with are a series of experiments, controlled experiments, often that involve members of the audience that we bring up — and our goal is to try and give them a sense of what it's like to actually do what we do, in terms of the playful experimentation. We've come up with some things are fun, that are sort of counter-intuitive, which is we like when we pick an episode — and there's an over-arching theme of things that you think are happening that may not actually be what's happening.
It's not like a magic act though, because we're very transparent about it. But it ends up making people think a lot and actually play around with technology and science and the way people see them.
CS: Is the aim of the show to give people a spectacle, or is there an over-arching idea of science education? Are you around to show people the cool things that can be done with science and technology, or is it to blow some stuff up and show off the spectacle of everything?
JH: On the show itself, we have no pretence of actually teaching anything. We're just curious, and we experiment with things, and simply because we want to do a good job of figuring something out, we're methodical about it. Now, that happens to be science. And that's all science is — just a methodical way of approaching trying to understand something.
Our goal on the tour is, as much as possible, to recreate as much as we can that experience with the audience — just to give them a sense of what we're really like. Most of the people that are showing up to see us are either fans of the show or people that have seen the show, and so we're trying to give them a sense of who we really are and what it's really like to do what we do. Which is not, yknow, getting up on a podium and teaching — we're not guys in labcoats that are just very rigid — we're simply trying to figure stuff out, and we involve the audience in that kind of experience.
We like to think that if we had tried to do what we're doing — as far as encouraging an interest in science — we would have failed miserably. We just try to have a good time, and we work hard at doing that, and people seem to like it. When we're on the tour, that's what we're doing.
CS: One tangential question. In Australia there's a resurgence in DIY, and there's growing interest in 3D printing, for example — what are your thoughts on that? Why do you think people are having a growing interest in these high-tech creation hobbies?
JH: We're seeing it happen here and have been for some time in the United States as well, yeah. It's a complex issue — people like technology, and if you get into technology and you start to look at it as something that is just all this data — you know, you're doing software and it's just a lot of stuff that exists in the computer and nowhere else.
People live in the real world, and they like to actually interact with real things, and yet they don't want to basket-weave, or something like that — it's not challenging, and people like a challenge. When you're talking about something like a 3D printer, that involves software and high-tech hardware, and it ends up making something that exists in the real world — in a way, that's the perfect storm of something that will appeal to people.
If you don't have a real output — if you're just doing math, or you're doing something in software — it can just be a pile of meaningless data on the table. But when you put it all together and you actually make something that you can hold in your hand and use, that's very exciting.
Image credit: Wikipedia
CS: The show has been running for nine seasons now — how has the production, and the myths that you test, been updated as technology has become more ubquitous? We've seen the rise of drones, for example; is there a way that the show has evolved with time as technology has evolved?
JH: We love technology and staying ahead of it, and as far as — have those changes fundamentally changed the way we produce the show? I would say not really. But as far as the content on the actual episodes, if we see something that we can sink our teeth into, and anything in particular that will allow us to have fun and get into the kinds of challenges we love — and it involves technology — we're going to be one of the first ones there. Maybe even the first one there.
As far as the changes in technology have impacted what we're able to get — we use the high-speed camera a lot, and what we're actually getting now as opposed to when we first started doing this is phenomenally different. We're also using, and this is something that will begin to appear in the upcoming year worth of episodes that will start to air in a few months — we've been doing some pretty advanced stuff with quadcopter photography.
We're getting these shots that used to be that you'd only be able to get from some really expensive helicopter shot that was carefully choreographed. One of our second camera guys has got this rig that he's put together from hobby parts, that is just producing stunning photography of the long distance shots, of swooping overhead of the sets as we're testing something. It's just amazing how it's extended our reach.
CS: From your personal perspective as someone up close and personal with the forefront of technology for so long — what do you think is the biggest and most exciting advancement in technology that you've come across or that you can look at for the future?
JH: I've gotten asked that before, and over the years I've learned a thing or two, but I'm seeing things from the perspective of a generalist — I'm not like a PhD in theoretical physics, or anything like that — and so are we about to see amazing things from the supercollider or something like that? I don't know. From a generalist's point of view, if I were to point at one thing that has some profound potential that we haven't seen yet, or that we're only beginning to see the potential of, it's genetics.
For me it's being able to produce food in a changing climate, to be able to deal with medical issues and things like that that we all have to deal with — the kind of potential that has to change our world is at the very top of the list.
CS: One last question — you're spending two weeks in Australia, is there anything outside of the shows that you're looking forward to doing?
JH: Well, I think it's namely meeting the people. I suppose it's pretty well known down there that our production company, Beyond Productions, is out of Sydney. In the very early days our entire crew was Australian, and even now it's largely influenced by Australians and we have Australians on the crew. For logistical reasons, I guess, the Australians have eventually figured out that not all Americans are completely incompetent, so they've allowed some to be on our crew.
But the effect that Australian culture has had on the show and on us personally has been profound. The sort of playful sense of humour, the somewhat mischievous way we approach things, is very front-and-centre Australian, and so I'm looking forward to just relaxing with some people and going to some pubs and just hanging out there for a bit. In a way, it sort of feels like home to me, or I'm imagining it will when I get there.
Mythbusters: Behind The Myths kicks off in Australia on August 16 in Melbourne, and heads to Adelaide, Sydney and Perth before finishing up in Brisbane on August 31.