Magic, hope and robots for all: Animatronics giant starts nonprofit in Redlands

Garner's Garage

San Bernardino native Garner Holt aims to offer a space for all to design, create and dream, like the garage he got started in.
There’s a sasquatch wearing a santa hat and a lifelike Albert Einstein standing next to a Christmas tree with little robot ornaments. There are also dinosaurs, a machine cutting shapes into foam, and moving, talking figures with clear plastic skin that showcase the gears working beneath.

The magic in the Redlands workshop and education facilities of animatronics guru Garner Holt isn’t just unleashed for the holidays, or for those who can pay.

Holt, who began his journey in a workshop built in his parents’ garage in San Bernardino with equipment scrounged from swap meets, has started a nonprofit to offer scholarships and a space for the community to design, create and dream.

The new Garner Holt Foundation also offers hope, said board Vice Chairmain Ryan Rainbolt.

“The research indicates that how students respond when asked about their levels of hope is a better predictor of future success than any academic assessment you can give them,” he said.

Both the for-profit education division of Garner Holt Productions Inc. and the new nonprofit are working on raising that hope by exposing youth to the variety of careers involved in animatronics manufacturing from sculpting to coding to welding.

“We ask ourselves, how do you focus on hope without focusing on the future, and how do you focus on the future without focusing on careers?” Rainbolt said.

The foundation’s board plans to offer scholarships to college students for programs like the Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition at Cal State State Bernardino which allows entrepreneurs to compete for a panel of investors. There will also be scholarships for younger students to participate in summer camps held by the education arm.

“The research indicates that how students respond when asked about their levels of hope is a better predictor of future success than any academic assessment you can give them.”

Ryan Rainbolt
Garner Holt Productions
The Garner Holt Foundation also offers hope, says board vice chair Ryan Rainbolt at Redlands’ Garner-Holt Productions

The foundation “is based around supporting entrepreneurship and kids’ education, career path development, that type of thing, (for those) that couldn’t really afford to do it,” said Holt, who parlayed his humble beginnings into a career designing robotic figures for Disneyland and other major theme parks.

The nonprofit is also raising money to fill 8,000 square feet of echoing warehouse space in Redlands with all the machines found in Holt’s production business across the street, and then opening it up to the community.

Holt got the idea for the space, dubbed Garner’s Garage, while talking to several interns a few years ago. He told them about how he started in his parents’ garage and suggested they could do that, too.

“They all just kind of stared at me like ‘what?’” Holt said. “It occurred to me that these guys don’t have garages, that’s something from my past.”

He caught himself and said businesses have been started in bedrooms and apartments, too, but it got him thinking.

“I felt kind of bad, I said to myself ‘Wow, they can’t do what I did,’” he said. “They can’t put machinery and a drill press in a bedroom.”

The nonprofit’s “makerspace,” as it’s called, will be similar to what the for-profit Garner Holt Education Through Imagination installs for schools. The garage, however, will be open to anyone.

Those who step inside can learn about animatronics and how to run computer-controlled cutters, there will be a sculpting area, a place to sew costumes, kids can learn to code, there will be spaces to work on lighting and sound.

The nonprofit is seeking donations for equipment and materials, and to help with maintenance and running the facility, which could open by the spring, depending on the success of the fundraising.

“We wanted to start this foundation so it wasn’t just the business supporting or just Garner supporting it,” Rainbolt said of the scholarships and makerspace, “but we could try to rally the entire community to get behind these initiatives” so it can grow to a higher level.

Giving community members hands-on exposure to tools and machines and art can lead to all kinds of possibilities for careers and personal growth, Rainbolt said.

“We think this model has the real opportunity not only to transform lives, but to transform entire communities,” he added.

Bob Botts, chairman of the board, said the foundation will help familiarize the community with jobs of the future.

Workers of the future won’t be replaced by robots, “they’ll be standing next to them,” building, repairing and coding them, he said. “It’s evolving.”

Rainbolt said he is looking forward to seeing the community’s response when Garner’s Garage opens.

“More likely it will start small and grow to something great,” he said, “but we’re not going to wait to get started.”

For more information, call 909-799-3030.

Garner Holt Animatronic
Robotics, sculpting, painting and entrepreneurship is fostered at Redlands’ Garner-Holt Productions

Written by Jennifer Iyer for the Redlands Daily Facts