January 21, 2009

Interview: Giant Robot Builder Jaimie Mantzel

Jaimie Mantzel is building a giant robot. He believes the world needs more of them and we agree. When finished, it will be 12' tall and 18' across with room for him to pilot it. We were so fascinated with the concept that we had to ask for more details.

First off, let's take a walk down your long road traveled in Vermont. You built a dome, a road to the dome, a lumber mill, and a workshop. When do you get to the actual robot creating?

A lot of that stuff is related to the robot buildings. I've had the dome for years with no road. I started building the giant robot a year and a half ago in friends basements, garages, and outside at my place. It was a bit of a pain, so when I stumbled across a free steel airplane hanger style building (quonset hut).... I decided to take it and turn it into a workshop. That was where the road came in. I figured it would take about the same amount of time to carry a couple tons of steel as it would to make a road, so I spent a month and a half digging a road. I've got the workshop standing. I'm slowly getting it into a usable state. The robot is about 80% done. It may sound like a lot, but there's still plenty of work to do on it. I'm doing everything I can now so that I'll be able to devote the spring to finishing it.

What inspired you to make your Giant Robot?

Robotech...? Shadow Raiders...? Transformers...? Cartoons. Ya, basically cartoons.

How long do you think it will take?

I should be able to finish the thing in less than a month of steady work. ...of course... my workshop isn't insulated, and the Vermont winter is holding things up.

How will you get into it? How will you control it once you get in?

Kinda like a tractor or a bulldozer. Climb up there. Open cockpit that I'm sure wouldn't pass any safety standards.

Have you come up with a name?

Nope. It seems that I come up with names for things after they've proven their usefulness. I just recently named my wood stove "Mr. Burns" after 3 years of faithful service.

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Are Michael's renderings pretty close to what it will look like?

Nope, not even close. :-P The big robot is made of Aluminium, and it'll look quite a bit different than the little plastic prototype.

Do you have days when you just want to hang it up?

Nope. I have days when I'm tired. ...when I feel like I'm up to my eyeballs in ridiculous projects, and my brain is swimming with incoherent thoughts. Actually, there've been a lot of those lately. (ha ha.) When I feel like I've bitten off more than I can chew, I see it as a sign that I'm living life the right way. When things are easy, I'm not learning anything, adventures lack their spark, and life in general is less exciting.

What do you intend to do with it once it finished? Do you have a cross country trip in the plans? We could call Guinness.

Uh.... if you asked me this before I starting building it, I'd probably have had an answer. At the moment, I can't see the forest for the trees. I'm swamped in tiny details, and subtle mechanics. All I see right now is a big robot coming to life, and me sighing a huge sigh of relief.... and laying down right there to sleep for about 3 days.

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Suppose for a moment that others were also building Giant Robots far up in the woods away from civilization. Do you think maybe they will contact each other and revolt?

The topic of "taking over the world" comes up a lot surrounding my giant robot. In reality, I could take a sledge hammer and reduce the thing to scrap without much effort. I also have absolutely no interest in "taking over the world". I have enough things to deal with without dealing with everyone else's problems! :-)

You draw, do animation, write, and build. What can't you do?

I can't become pregnant....? Hmm... I also can't just up in the air and fly. I do try that every now and then, though. ...just in case. Flying, not bearing a child.

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We understand that you have also written a book?

Jaimie- Yep, I've written a couple books. One called "How Big is the Universe?" It's about how big the universe is. I'd explain more, but thats why I wrote the book, and made all those nice pictures. I also wrote a book on parenting. The cover has a father punting a baby into a pit of alligators, and the scene has a big "X" over it, and beside there is a scene of a father happily holding a baby that is pooping on his shoe. That scene has a big "check" on it. That pretty much covers the gist of the book. I think its called, "Stuff to Remember.... and stuff .....about Parenting." You can read both of them on my website. I even read one of them on my YouTube page.

Tell us about some of your previous creations.

Previous creations. OK, my first fairly complex creation. When I was 12, I built a 2 legged walking thing out of Popsicle sticks. I built the entire thing from my head, and had no way of testing whether or not it would work until it was finished. I probably spend around a month gluing Popsicle sticks together, making a drill press, cutting up coat hangers, etc. I had an idea of what I wanted to happen but I was somewhat surprised when it actually worked. That was the point when I realized 2 things. 1. I love building things. 2. I was unusually good at it. Luckily those 2 things go together very well. :-)

What was your first motorized gadget?

It was a motor with a propeller on it, a couple "AA" batteries, and a little toy car. I was 5, and taped all the stuff together so the propeller propelled the car. It didn't work particularly well, but it did work.

Reading your main site bio felt almost like an intrusion because you got so personal.

Ya. I think its silly how people constantly hide things and lie in this culture. Actually, I think its worse than silly. I think it's terrible. I guess being open is my way of combating that particular tradition.

Where can people get in touch with you?

It's easy to get in touch with me. My website, Jamius.com, has my e-mail on it. It even has a "donate to the giant robot project" button. I'm easy to find on YouTube as well. My ID is JMEMantzel, although searching for "giant robot project" finds me pretty quickly.

We read that you tried to get a grant but it didn't happen. Maybe you could be part of President Obama's new stimulus program.

Ya, hook me up with 700 billion dollars, and I'll build the most awesomely awesome robot ever. uhh... ok, seriously, any time I try to do anything with grants or business world types, there's so much time wasted that it just isn't worth it. I am very open to a grant, however I'm not willing to jump thought hoops for 4 months of my life that could be used productively. I've found it much more beneficial to deal directly with actual people. It may sound strange, but just having a donate button on the giant robot page, and documenting the project has been much more beneficial than any grant, or job, or schooling has been. Financially yes, but even more... emotionally. It is inspiring to hear about other people doing similar things, encouraging me to do what I'm doing, or even having some teenager out there donating $5, and saying, something like, "if I had a million dollars, I'd send it to you." I have to say that without the Internet, I'd be a much lonelier person with my non-conformist attitudes. Ahh... did I just get mushy? Oh well.

Or the military. Put an Uzi in it and DARPA will snap it up.

It's funny how many people mention such a thing. My giant robot design is much more for traversing rough terrain. I feel that it would be pretty easy to destroy in a combat situation. It's all gangley with all these legs sticking out just waiting to be blown off by an RPG or a Bazooka. (ha ha.) Why don't people use the word bazooka anymore???

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How about donations? We suspect you are a starving artist.

I wouldn't say starving. I'm doing pretty well. I built my house to require very little maintenance and set up my life to be low cost. That way it's very easy to live cheaply. I 'spose that is how I manage to have time to build inventions. There is a bit of a problem when I need to buy parts or tools. The more of that I have to do, the more I have to work, and the less time I spend on projects. I've been getting enough donations on my website to almost cover the materials costs of the giant robot, so that has been an enormous help. There are a few more parts I still need to get, but I'm sure I'll figure out some way to make it happen between surprise donations, looking for deals, and getting lucky at the junkyard.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Break a giant leg and keep in touch.

Thanks! ...although I can think of a few giant robot parts that make me more nervous about their potential to break than the legs!

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Via The Giant Robot Project

(Thanks for the tip, Jim)

Read More in: Interview | Make Your Own Robot | Robot Art

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Posted by Sheila Franklin at January 21, 2009 9:08 AM
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