Faces of Black Excellence

Meet Marc Regis Hannah, the man behind 3D technology in your favourite movies

Dr Marc Regis Hannah, an electrical engineer with expertise in computer graphics, is the reason you are able to enjoy 3D effects on your screens.

Hannah was born to parents, Hubert, an accountant, and Edith, a teacher in Chicago, Illinois on October 13, 1956. He lived his college years in the city and did well in school, especially in math and science.

His exemplary performance in school earned him a scholarship from Bell Laboratories to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology, graduating with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1977.

He moved from there to the Stanford University, earning an M.S. in 1978 and then a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1985.

While at Stanford, Hannah worked with Jim Clark, a professor of engineering who shared a mutual interest in 3-D graphics. In 1982, the pair, along with five other partners, founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. in Mountain View, California.

The company attracted over $30 million in venture capital support, largely stemming from Clark’s invention of the “Geometry Engine,” a computer chip/ processor that improved 3-D image manipulation, allowing a computer user to easily see an image from multiple angles.

As the company’s vice president and principal scientist for the creation of computer programs, Hannah enhanced the chip’s function, making it faster. Soon, Silicon Graphics, Inc. grew into an entertainment industry powerhouse, with its technology used in blockbuster films produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

The 3-D special effects systems were widely used in movies such as Terminator 2 (1991), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Jurassic Park, Aladdin, The Abyss, Death Becomes Her, The Hunt for Red October, Beauty and the Beast, Field of Dreams, and Lawnmower Man, as well as, in scientific research settings, like aerospace and biotech engineering labs. .

In addition to several television commercials, SGI effects can also be seen in two of Michael Jackson’s videos, Black and White and Remember the Time, as well as, the helmets in the opening scenes of Monday Night Football.

Hannah is not directly involved in producing special effects per se — he designs the computer equipment that special effects artists use to create the effects. The equipment is then purchased by companies such as research firms or movie studios, which employ their own special effects artists. 

His key role in the company contributed to lowering the price of many Silicon Graphics, Inc. products, extending the company’s reach into new markets, and planning for its future expansion. In 1993, Silicon Graphics, Inc. reached a milestone, with revenues over $1 billion and thousands of employees around the world.

Later in his career, Regis co-founded Rondeau Bay, a construction company, based in Oakland, California, and served as a technical adviser and board member to many start-up companies.

He spent sixteen years with Silicon Graphics, Inc. but in the 1990s became co-owner of Rondeau Bay which had a specialty in replacing sewer systems in an eco-conscious manner. Other new companies also attracted Hannah’s attention.

Hannah explained in an Ebony interview that 3-D images generated on computers are different from the effects seen through special glasses at 3-D movies. “If you have a picture of a house on paper,” he says, “you get to see it from just one specific angle, but with 3-D you can use the computer to view that same house from different angles, change the color, raise the roof, change the floor plan, modify sections of it. It gives you the ability to move around like that. It’s quicker and easier on computer.”

He joined the Board of Directors for Warp Speed Communications and Magic Edge. The latter specializing in providing visual stimulation (hardware) for amusement park rides.

Other entities he contributed to included: the African American-owned Omniverse Digital Solutions, as Vice President of Technology, and SongPro, a company specializing in digital music players and delivery systems, as Chief Technology Officer. Hannah also played a role in the development of “Black Achievers in Science,” a traveling exhibit created by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Photo: The Registry Bay Area

Over the course of his career, Hannah earned many awards and accolades. He holds over a dozen patents and has received the Professional Achievement Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was recognized with a Kilby International Young Innovator Award in 1995 and a Black Engineer of the Year Technical Contribution Award.

In addition, Hannah sits on the board of directors for Magic Edge, a young company he has invested in, which supplies visual simulation to amusement parks nationwide.

He says their product compares with Star Tours. “Rather than play a movie like Star Tours and have motion correspond to the movie,” he told Ebony, “with our technology you might have a joystick and have the motion of flying. You actually fly it by using the joystick. You can flip over. There is a wider range of motions. You can give people the experience of weightlessness. SGI will provide the visual display system and Magic Edge provides the hardware.”

In his spare time, Hannah also supervised the construction of a 6,000 square-foot home in the Valley, which he helped to design. 

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu prefers to be called a born writer, before anything else. He is a trained journalist, a consultant and a blogger. He is passionate about writing right and that fuels his desires to tell contemporary African stories from the angle of the African. He is avid about reading. He is also an author of a relationship-themed book, Epistles To My Bubune, which catalogues the sentiments of a prospective husband, writing to his prospective wife, concerning basically all that he hopes to see in their future marriage.

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