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MythBusters: Savage and Hyneman detonate truthiness

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By FX, Hyneman is referring to the special-effects biz that keeps Hollywood and the TV industry ticking – a business in which Hyneman and Savage have years of experience.

Before MythBusters, Hyneman worked for Colossal Pictures, managing the creation of models and special effects before creating M5. Savage has worked on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Galaxy Quest, Terminator 3, A.I., and the Matrix sequels, while designing props and sets for Coca-Cola, Hershey's, and Lexus TV ads. Savage is particularly proud of his work on A.I., creating the aged and crumbling buildings in a flooded, futuristic New York City.

He also sculpts and – in what he says is the distant past – designed and marketed custom laptop covers for Apple's Powerbook 1400. That wasn't much of a success, Savage admits: he sold a grand total of 35 units.

What has earned the pair special attention over their FX peers is the TV platform that is MythBusters. "Military and law enforcement personnel seem to be one of our strongest supporters in the audience as far as viewers," Hyneman tells us. "We've been in the Pentagon, and we can hardly walk down the corridor without getting stopped."

The MythBusters don't have a big following just among the G-men: they're a hit with code junkies, as well, and have appeared at popular events such as JavaOne to the satisfaction of many a fan.

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Hyneman and Savage took the stage with another geek icon, Java daddy James Gosling, during the 2006 event to preside over the traditional tossing of T-shirts into the audience. Gosling used specially built air bazookas and a trebuchet catapult. I watched this geek meltdown from a safe distance at the back of the JavaOne audience members who were grabbing madly for flying shirts.

The pair might be FX whizzes and heroes to the men in black and the sandal-clad legions of coders, but what is it that qualifies them to helm a program spanning physics, engineering, and mechanics, or to partake in a little Tony Stark–style inventing for the world's largest superpower? You won't find much in Hyneman's past that prepared him for a show like MythBusters. What you will find is time spent as a wilderness boat captain, diver, linguist, animal wrangler, machinist, cook, and a stint running a Caribbean sailing and diving business.

A self-described "problematic kid" who left home at 14 to hitchhike across the US, Hyneman was primarily interested in art and sculpture. He now holds a degree in Russian languages, has been granted several patents, and is credited with being one of the designers of the aerial robotic camera system Wavecam.

Savage's background was creative: his father was painter W. Lee Savage, who produced impressionist portraits before withdrawing from the art world in the 1960s. His dad was a terrific example of somebody who did only what he wanted to do, Savage says.

Following that example, Savage joined Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) after quitting an R&D position at an unnamed toy company. "That was a lot of management I didn’t enjoy," Savage recalls of his time in toys. At ILM, though, "It was heaven." Among his projects, Savage was heavily involved in the space shuttles used in the aging astronauts' romp, Space Cowboys.

Speaking of MythBusters, Savage sums up their bona fides: "We like problem-solving. It's never the biggest bang of the biggest contraption ... it's the most counterintuitive result that makes us most happy."

Big-bang theory tested

"It's just who we are," Hyneman adds. "We are naturally curious. We are the kinds of people that if you leave us in alone in a room, before long everything is going to be disassembled on the floor. ... a lot of the stories are primarily driven by our own curiosity and our own interest."

Hyneman reckons that he's learned a lot since they shot a MythBusters demo in 13 hours to get the show on air. "A lot of what you see on the program is things I've grown into by doing this kind of work. I've become like an entirely different person to when I started in MythBusters – of my understanding of how things work and my level of curiosity," Hyneman says.

The show's premise is that its hosts get actively involved in the recreation of the myths they examine. In doing so, the pair work with a range of experts – the best part of their job, Savage tells us. These include the firefighters, bomb squad, and FBI technicians who supervised the packing of 850 pounds of high explosives into that unlucky cement mixer to test whether the blast could remove a slab of concrete from inside the vehicle's drum. The task had been to see if a single stick of dynamite could remove stuck concrete, but the pair were having too much fun. As Savage admitted at the time: "This has got nothing to do with the myth; it's just a big boom".

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