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Marc Hannah

Electrical engineer and computer graphics designer Marc Regis Hannah was born on October 13, 1956, in Chicago, Illinois to Huber and Edith Hannah. He attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, with funding from a scholarship awarded by AT&T’s Bell Laboratories. Hannah received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1977 before going on to Stanford University where he obtained his M.S. degree in 1978 and his Ph.D. degree in 1985.

In 1982, Hannah co-founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) with Jim Clark and five others, a company that went on to be well-known for its computer graphics technology. In 1986, he was named the company’s principal scientist for the creation of computer programs like Personal IRIS, Indigo, Indigo2, and Indy graphics that were used to create effects for movies like Jurassic Park, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunt for Red October, and Field of Dreams. George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic used Silicon Graphics’ technology to create Terminator 2. Hannah’s programs have also been used to create television commercials and the opening introduction for Monday Night Football. In addition, the company’s technology was used in engineering, research, and for military applications. Hannah is a partial owner of Rondeau Bay, a construction company in Oakland, California.

Since 1994, Hannah has sat on the Board of Directors for Magic Edge. He has also been profiled in Ebony magazine, Electronics magazine, Forbes, and PC Magazine. In addition, Hannah has received the Professional Achievement Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Technical Association.

Marc Hannah was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 10, 2011.

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Electrical engineer and computer graphics designer Marc Hannah (1956 - ) co-founded and designed hardware for Silicon Graphics, Inc., a leading company in the graphics design industry during the 1990s.


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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marc Hannah's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah describes his mother's education in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah responds to questions about others with the name of Hannah

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah traces his father's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marc Hannah describes his father's educational and family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marc Hannah describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marc Hannah describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Marc Hannah recalls the growth of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Marc Hannah remembers his family's move from Cleveland, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marc Hannah responds to questions about his neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah remembers his elementary school in Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah recounts the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah describes the television and radio programs he enjoyed as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah describes his childhood interests in special effects

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah talks about junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marc Hannah talks about attending high school in Chicago, part 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marc Hannah talks about attending high school in Chicago, part 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marc Hannah discusses his neighborhood church and friends

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Marc Hannah describes his early interest in technology

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marc Hannah discusses his first exposure to computer programming

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah recalls his decision to study electrical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah describes the influence of AT&T Bell Laboratories on his career and education

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah talks about his experience at Stanford University graduate school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah describes the state of computers in the 1980s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah shares the origins of his involvement with the Geometry Engine

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marc Hannah describes the Geometry Engine, part 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah describes the Geometry Engine, part 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah recalls the founding of Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah explains his dissertation

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah discusses the rise of Silicon Valley

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah describes developments in computing

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Marc Hannah discusses the role of Silicon Graphics, Inc. in movie special effects

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Marc Hannah continues his discussion about Silicon Graphics, Inc. technology

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah describes why he left Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah shares his involvement with Omniverse Digital Solutions and Pulsent Corporation, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah shares his involvement with Omniverse Digital Solutions and Pulsent Corporation, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah describes his other entrepreneurial ventures

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah describes his work in Africa

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Marc Hannah considers his future plans

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Marc Hannah describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Marc Hannah discusses the impact of new computer technology on society

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Marc Hannah reflects on his life's accomplishments, part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Marc Hannah reflects on his life's accomplishments, part 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Marc Hannah describes his family

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Marc Hannah reflects on how he would like to be remembered







Marc Hannah shares the origins of his involvement with the Geometry Engine
Marc Hannah describes the Geometry Engine, part 2
I was trying to focus in on you and Jim Clark and the development of the--$$Right, right, right, okay. Yeah, so the Geometry Engine. Right, so let me skip to that, right. So, after a few years, started working with Forest Baskett on multi-micro processor stuff, spent the summer doing some light thinking and research into that area. I must not have been working at Bell Labs [AT&T Bell Laboratories] that summer 'cause I just remember, you know, playing tennis and doing stuff like that. And at the end of the summer, then, you know, met up with Forest and said that I was getting kind of bored with this area of research. I needed to work on something different; wasn't sure exactly what it was. I wasn't even sure whether it was, you know, hardware, software 'cause I sort of had an interest in both areas, and just sort of in passing mentioned that I was interested in computer graphics. One of the summer projects I did at Bell Laboratories had something to do with graphics as well. And so I mentioned that I was interested in graphics, but nobody here is doing graphics. And he told me that, well, there's a guy who just started this summer who is, you know, doing graphics stuff; and Jim Clark [James H. Clark], would you like to meet him? Yes. So, you know, we got up. He walked me across the hall, you know, introduced me to Jim. And so I sat down in his office and he outlined some of the stuff that he was thinking about and thought I could work on. And, you know, one was the Geometry Engine, this parallel architecture for doing some of the computations involved in 3-D [three dimensional] graphics. And another part of it was sort of taking this 3-D representation and rendering it into a screen, a two-dimensional [2-D] screen image. So that was--so he was working on the Geometry Engine, and the sort of rasterization hardware was an area that he thought, you know, I could work on as a Ph.D. research area. And so, even in that first meeting, he mentioned the possibility of starting a company based upon this work. But, you know, at that time, you know, my career path was, you know, get a Ph.D., go back and work in research in Bell Laboratories. So it sort of went in one ear and out the other. I really didn't give it any serious thought. But basically, you know, right after that meeting started working with him on, you know, graphics architecture. And this was a time when there was this, what was called Meade-Conway approach ["Introduction to VLSI systems," 1980] to doing integrated circuit design which is basically sort of simplify the--you come up with a set of rules and simplify the process of designing and laying out the physical part of the integrated circuits. And it's, and so that was part it and then part of it was this hierarchical design methodology as a set of tools. But, yeah, the concept was to let system designers design integrated circuits.$Okay, now is this invention [the Geometry Engine] the first of its kind? Was it the first time that anybody had come up with a 3-D [three dimensional] graphics?$$Let's see. I think what was unique about the Geometry Engine was it was an architecture that was specifically, it was not--it was specifically taking advantage of this ability to do custom chips. Like I was saying earlier, this whole Meade-Conway design philosophy ["Introduction to VLSI systems," 1980] was you sort of make some, certain simplifying assumptions and rules. And then you can let systems designers design new architectures that are implemented in these chips where you can pack a lot of logic, a lot of gates, a lot of transistors, you know, in a small low-cost chip. And so giving systems designers the sort of, this total flexibility, you know, to start with a blank sheet of paper as opposed to starting with, you know, sort of higher-level functions that would get assembled into a particular architecture. You basically have complete flexibility to design an architecture that is best suited to the problem. Implement it in silicon, you get a chip that can be low cost, and you can put a bunch of these together and get much higher performance. And this architecture was really taking advantage of the ability to do a low-cost, single chip and then replicate it a number of times to get higher performance, whereas I think other arch--systems that did the same kind of function prior to that, I think, were more focused on, you know, there's one basic computing engine that you try to make as fast as possible. You know, this was make one part that's simple and cheap enough and then you replicate it a number of times to get the performance that you need.$$Okay.$$And, no, but the whole idea was to bring the cost of high-performance computing down to much lower levels. I mean for me personally, I had this interest in flight simulators and I wanted to, you know, have this flight simulator thing which requires very high performance, you know, 3-D [three dimensional] graphics, down to a cost where I could afford to have one in, you know, as basically a game machine in my basement. And so this was very much along the lines of what we were trying to do, although at this point it was still, you know, it wasn't a thousand dollar system or a hundred dollar system. It was tens of thousands of dollars, but compared with hundred of thousands of dollars that it might have cost you to do this before. You know, that was a--$$Okay, so that you could do--$$--(unclear) (simultaneous) break down.$$--but it would cost way more the way they do it.$$Right, right.