Interviews + Podcasts

Marcus Mitter, founder of 360-up, in interviews

Marcus Mitter, founder of 360-up, interview with Digitale Kohle

Discussion about the evolution of 360°-media from 2010 to 2020

Talking about the unique selling points USP’s of 360-up’s 360°-media in 2020

Stefan: We were together at …

Christian: … Marcus Mitter! He’s in Düsseldorf, where he has his company 360-up. Marcus deals with all-around photography, 3D, panoramas, but he can tell that himself now.

And he can do that quite well. Just listen.

Yes, have fun with Marcus Mitter.

Stefan: Today is July 16 and it is shortly after 2:30 p.m. Normally we don’t say that because that doesn’t matter much in podcasts, but exactly 50 years ago the people of America looked into the sky and watched the Apollo 11 rocket flying to the moon. That’s when the future started and they also had, I think, a Hasselblad camera with which they took fabulous pictures of the Earth.

In the meantime, we have actually become used to this view from above and today we have access to thousands of satellite images and Google Maps with a satellite view as part of everyday’s life. It has become more interesting again to see things up close and that’s why we are paying a visit to Marcus Mitter. He founded his company 360-up in early 2012 and keeps on going with it. Marcus, what exactly are you doing?

Marcus: Yes, we started by visualizing luxury properties in order to show detached houses at their actual locations, a click on a hotspot on the door and then hop into the virtual tour. Unfortunately, this was not a success and then in 2013 I launched a project and produced a gigapixel panorama tour from the Middle Rhine to the Lower Rhine.

I was born in Krefeld and founded my company in Bonn, the result was a virtual gigapixel panorama tour due to an initiative of the Chamber of Commerce in Cologne, which bears responsibility up to the Lower Rhine. It starts on top of the skyscraper rooftop of the City Hall in Bonn, actually not such a good-looking building, so it doesn’t show. You can zoom in on the Drachenfels, you can turn towards Cologne, then zoom in again, see the skyline of Cologne, suddenly you stand on the highest office building in North Rhine-Westphalia, on the KölnTurm in the Media Park, then you can zoom through the city of Düsseldorf, continue to swerve into the city where I have my office for a long time until today in Düsseldorf, the digital capital.

There we stood on top of the Hyatt building located in the Media Harbour with our giant tripod. It became the largest gigapixel panorama. Now you can zoom into the Bayer-Kreuz, getting in Krefeld-Uerdingen at the size of your screen, then stand again on the rooftop of the historic Dujardin’s wine distillery. You look around and you see a panoramic postcard and look over to Duisburg, over the Rhine, and you can see a farmer is driving his tractor in the distance.

Stefan: You now have your business in Düsseldorf and right here by our side the panorama of Düsseldorf is hanging on your wall, it is already remarkably big, I would say 5 meters, 4 meters large? Illuminated from behind?

Marcus: Yes, it is museum quality, backlit, we can get this level of quality only in 3 meters’ length.

Stefan: That’s impressive, but of course you don’t see any details at all…I know the picture from your website where you can really zoom-in and you suddenly see some people walking by with a dog on the other side at a Beach of the Rhine.

Marcus: This is part of this gigapixel panorama tour that I’ve just described. You can find it simply by googling gigapixel panorama Düsseldorf or Köln or Bonn. You then navigate with the map and as it is in multi-resolution you can really look deep into the buildings and into the city. By the way, this is the largest image file of Düsseldorf and we are talking about a size just before Photoshop would tilt at that time. The image file, stitched, consists of 530 full-format frames with a specific overlap to find anchor points again. And today, the 530 full-format single images are in total, from memory, 220,000 pixels wide by 30,000 pixels in height. With a screen resolution of 72dpi, this is approximately 80 x 10 metres. If I wanted to wrap this thing over an arena in Düsseldorf, that would work, because we don’t need such a high resolution. So, this is the biggest picture of Düsseldorf that exists today.

Stefan: Are there already commercial applications available or is this your showcase project?

Marcus: Yes, I didn’t get a commercial channel for this project in Düsseldorf. But the Cologne panorama runs as a digital signage application at the reception of the KölnTurm, the tallest office building in Cologne and in North Rhine-Westphalia, where we had been up on the rooftop at 150 Metres from the ground. Today, 400 people, who work there and walk in there every day can enjoy this view taken 150 Metres from above and exactly at the height of the Cologne Cathedral.

Stefan: So, you started with it in 2012 and you are about our age, that means you also had a previous life. Do you come from photography or what did you do before?

Marcus: Yes, I was born in Krefeld in 1965, and I had been asking the Arts teacher in high school for a long time – because he had stored his plaster statues in the old darkroom – to give some way, finally I got them out and we started the photo working group, that means we still developed black and white photos with photo lab traditional techniques.

This is what I did personally, but professionally I did something else. I moved and studied in France, and in my previous professional life, which ended in 2010 after the economic crisis, 20 to 25 years after my studies in France, I have worked as a businessman, sales manager, product manager, flying around the world mostly to places where no one wanted to go. In summary I’ve been a very hard-core international traveller in many fields and sectors.

Christian: Suppose I want to integrate a panoramic tour of my company on my website, how would it work?

Marcus: A cost-effective version today: I am, thanks to the gigapixel panorama tour, which has also been in the media, a well-known panoramic photographer here in Germany, and Google got in touch with me. I was one of the first handpicked specialists, who after training and passing the exam, had the right to upload a virtual tour into the Google MyBusiness business directories, – in a certain standard according to the Google guidelines-, thus, directly in Google Maps and with the Street View technology.

So when you are googling something today, on your phone or on your desktop, you can see the Google knowledge graph, keyword Google MyBusiness, you can click on the photos or on the maps frame and if you go over maps and have a tour from us with the Street View technology, then you can click in the top left corner, there is a small breadcrumb menu where there is a “share or embed picture”, then via the I-frame embed code you can directly embed the virtual tour to your own website, this, with the start-screen position and angle you choose.

That means we’re talking about doubling the search engine optimization. On the one hand, only about 50% of all Google searches today lead to a website. That in turn means that the Google MyBusiness listing is important, and embedding it is simply awesome but also very important: if you have this produced, you can get it on your own website via this I-frame embed code. Then your own website will happen to be connected with a Google Maps URL and the Google robots will not only go over their own stuff. In other words, this is a ranking factor advantage and the cheapest solution.

The cooler solution for end users, and users on your website, is our content management system CMS for virtual tours, because we don’t just run through hops, hops, hops, hops, x Street View jumps from the entrance to the last end of your business. At the start the user wouldn’t know where he will end up, therefore we put a surface above it with an overlay to obtain the possibility of showing navigation and additional information.

Now we can say: here is your office, there is the entrance area, there is this and that, and the conference room is over here and then I can still be here and there. Now transfer it to a hotel: you can think directly about whether you want to look at the bar, the fitness centre or the Royal Suite. This is our daily business and with our content management system it is also possible to install SEO-snippets through its back-end. This is what the Google robot processes and you can see it in the search results as the title and descriptions. And you can do this with up to 190 languages.

This means when using a semi-automatized process, you can give so much material to the Google robot, the ability to be searched for is given and when this tour is on your website it will of course be much better tracked and found. Another point is that you can also time-control these SEO-snippets: you can also automize the process. You can indicate the robot, I take an example from spring, until Easter we have something with lamb dishes, then it disappears automatically at Easter and a short while before autumn you start with game dishes.

This means that you can automatically feed the Google robot so much that your website ranks excellently. And all of a sudden, we are no longer talking about beautiful pictures or interactivity, but about search engine optimization.

In addition, our CMS allows us to install separate navigation for virtual reality use. This means that you can not only embed a virtual tour on your website like the one published on Google with the Google tours, but you can click on the virtual reality goggles within our content management system, thus, on the Cardboard icon, the VR glasses, and you enter a webVR view. You can buy such a Google Cardboard VR-goggle for € 15 and you will be able, within the virtual reality experience, to look up towards the ceiling and have a navigation menu showing up again to allow you to navigate and fly back into the Royal Suite or the leisure centre of the hotel, directly and hands-free.

A nice example of what we did two years ago are 25 Bavaria yachts at the Boat Fair in Düsseldorf. And now every user can see for himself in all languages whether he is looking at the most beautiful or the cheapest or the best motor yacht or sailing yacht. This is fun for all of us, because it is playful, our instinct to play is triggered. In other words, people who use our media remember because they are interactive on the one hand, and on the other hand they will reminisce it because it’s just fun.

Christian: That sounds very exciting. When you say your content management system, is this software-as-a-service? How do I get it? How can I use it for myself?

Marcus: At 360-up today, we are doing the following: we just want to deliver end-to-end solutions. You book us, we create a virtual tour and produce the panoramas in a state-of-the-art quality, it’s about exposure series and full format sensors, about professional technology, about nodal point adapters, so that’s much better as compared to you doing it with your smartphone.

We load these panoramas. We build the basic navigation, then we have the option to either do this only as a Google tour or load it into our CMS, depending on what you want to have. And depending on how the customer ticks, we build this on behalf of the customer when we know what to install. So, as I said before with the hotel example, the Royal Suite and the simple standard room. Or, we train our customers so that they can do what I just described as SEO in the backend. Thus, enhancing the whole thing in such a way that the SEO optimization is there. We can assign different levels of permissions after training. But we want to make sure in the workflow that only our well-done stuff is available online and offline.

Stefan: Moreover, we still have the second half of a contribution that is also entirely from the region. Now, here directly from Düsseldorf; this is the interview with Marcus Mitter, with the photographer and 3D specialist, giant image professional. He has already told a lot in the last official episode and today the rest of the story comes along.

Christian: Great stuff, listen.

Stefan: Back to the second partial interview with Marcus Mitter, Düsseldorfer, 360°-filmmaker and also otherwise innovative head regarding the implementation of virtual presentation concepts.

Christian: Marcus, you told us before the break that you have your CMS with which you actually present these things in the form that makes it really useful for the visitors. What target group are you thinking of? Is this something for the doctor or do I have to run a big hotel so that I can get a return-on-investment?

Marcus: The return-on-investment with our virtual tours depends of course a bit on the industry. But in itself we also have customers around the Kö in Düsseldorf, the plastic surgeon, we don’t talk about large amounts. We used the CMS years ago, in the previous version, developed by a friend of mine and we improve it permanently.

At the University Hospital in Düsseldorf, you can walk through the ambulatory clinic, the operative medicine and through a second centre, the ZOM II. We simply enhanced it by incorporating a navigation and additional information, e.g. the cafeteria menu, thus pea soup in a PDF.

The big ones do use it, the smaller ones as well.

A nice project that we have implemented this year is a tour of the Hyatt House, not the Hyatt Media Harbour, but the new Hyatt in the Andreas Quarter near Ratinger Straße in Düsseldorf’s Old Town. The Hyatt House on Ratinger Straße has recently opened. Our virtual tour with the CMS can be used in two languages, directly via their website.

This means, a prospective buyer searches the Hyatt House online, finds the Google MyBusiness business listing, goes to the website, can click on the button directly below the above-the-fold image, click on the button “Explore our hotel” and is in the slider. In the first slide then, via I-frame embed, directly in the tour. That’s state-of-the-art, we also track the user behaviour in our back-end and that’s totally legal.

Christian: On what technical basis is the system built? You just said your companion builds it himself.

Marcus: It is coded from scrap. By the way, the thing has grown over the years.

Stefan: How many projects have already been realized in total?

Oh, I say more than a hundred up to today. The first version was, historically, one where we took our Google tours and had them in the background and we put an overlay over it. Due to the fact that Google is sometimes a little unpredictable in terms of APIs and interfaces, we have buried this. For two years and exclusively now, we take our panoramas, upload them into the content management system, completely Google-free, for certain reasons, -also in terms of the cost of using the APIs-, and build the thing again completely neutral, but sometimes also with hotspot navigation, as just seen, with the Google Street View arrows, so that the user knows how to use it. We can also upload our own hotspot graphics.

Due to the fact that we are no longer dependent on Google, with the CMS, we can now also offer the virtual reality experiences, i.e. via webVR, that you can use this on a cheap VR-glasses. You look at the ceiling and navigate somewhere. It’s just a lot of fun.

Today we can offer the whole thing offline as well, user-friendly, through four apps from 360-up that we’ve released in the Windows, Mac, IOS, and the Android App-stores. We sell our customers a key code to access. When the customer buys the key, he can forward it to his customers or wherever he wants. They put it through our app or via a white label solution of the customer’s branded app. Thus, the end user who wants to watch the tour has the option to use the tour offline.

Even where it has never been possible, historically.

Stefan: Something like a progressive web app for VR-tours! You just showed us, during a virtual tour, a video suddenly started to run via a click on a hotspot, what exactly was that?

Marcus: We can use several tools in the CMS. One is multilingualism. We can use navigation, which means I get right to what I want to discover. We can use external links as long as we stay online. If we build offline, we can also use other things that we load directly into the tool. This means that we do not use an I-frame embed to a YouTube video for example, but we load the video directly into the tool. That means we build it a bit differently for offline or online.

By the way, through the information boxes and the hotspots we use, we can put additional information where we want and also time-control it again. This means that we can put the entire web into the virtual tour. That is done in the backend by switching to code view, creating something beautiful and digital, and can then put code into an info box.

We can put info boxes where we want and as many as we want. This means that we can now go towards the road to gamification. We can install immediately as many additional information including sound files, and so on, as we want. Hereby we make sure, through a well-done tour, that we can do storytelling on the one hand, and we make sure that people use it for a super long time and when that’s on your website, you have SEO optimization again.

Christian: Again, on gamification and hotspots. Assuming I had a hotel tour now, could I, as a hotel operator, also say “Find the moose head and then you get a discount code for one night 10% cheaper”? Would that be possible?

Marcus: No problem at all. We did this years ago as a unique selling proposition for the aforementioned Steigenberger. We approached Steigenberger and have told them, that we can build a tour where you pick up the people directly in the corporate booking system? That idea really shined up.

That’s why they did it. And we’re right now building more hotel tours where you can navigate right in the Royal Suite or in the standard room, and directly book it in the corporate booking system.

So, discount codes and so on, all of this is possible. As I said, in an online version we get the whole web in there, in an offline version we can upload PDFs, and whatever else is wanted.

Stefan: Let’s get out of the hotel on to the street. On your website there is a movie where you run with such a 3D cam on your backpack over the Kö. What is it all about?

Marcus: Yes, that’s, yes, in one or two of our last newly developed business units. This one is a 360°-video and as good as it gets. That means we produce today with 8K resolution. With us, you could, at this year’s ITB in Berlin, the International Tourism Fair, get on a bike, go cycling, get our VR-headset on and experience offline in a 360°-video along the Route of Industrial Culture at some cool hotspots along the Ruhr on the bike trail. And all that sitting on the saddle in Berlin.

So, 360°-video is the next big thing. We have the next projects in tourism underway. As a product manager and as a founder with my nose in the wind, I’m just triggering the next hot thing. But I can’t show anything yet, we’re looking for a paying customer.

Virtual tours, with a different CMS, where we navigate through video sequences.

Stefan: What is the extent of real-time transmission? So how good is the real-time image quality?

Marcus: It’s what it is. That’s why we like to play the videos on our in-house VR glasses. There’s everything in there, including the mobile phone, if you like. So high-resolution screens, we can now guarantee up to 4K per eye!

And we provide the whole thing, it weighs 260 grams, so every sales representative can have in the briefcase. All you have to do is click on the switch, pour down some coffee, the goggles boot, and when the sound starts, the fun starts.

On our website we have only had not so cool solutions at the moment. We do this through a paid service, via Vimeo, and services like Facebook, YouTube or Vimeo, i.e. social media channels, there is much intelligence behind that and if the data connection of your mobile phone is weak you only see snow or it is rat-sharp up to 4K. But we basically produce the basic MP4 files in 360°-video format in 8K resolution all around, because our customers also like to use this on a rented large touchscreen monitor at a trade fair in high resolution.

Stefan: But standard users will probably continue to use a smartphone with appropriate goggles, or will the VR-glasses gradually get through outside of the gaming scene?

Marcus: You need a good connection and you need good screens. Google has set standards three years ago, when they had been a little more hyped; as for example, the gyroscopic sensor in your smartphone, so that the image does not smear. So, if you’re using modern technology, everything is good today. Of course, you can’t do it with an old Nokia. So, software update, good screens, I work personally with the Google Pixel, because I’m a Google enthusiast.

For three years I had to watch how things didn’t go well in the end, online, in Germany. This is why we have recently launched the 360-up apps, thus, with our CMS tours in the offline version, you can pick your device and everything is working fine. Therefore, your phone just needs a good processor and a good resolution. It also works fine on the iPad, of course, and what we do now with the videos; we like to put them with the “switch-on button-running-solution” on our in-house VR-headsets.

Stefan: Yes, we have now arrived pretty much in the future and next year, in order to close the circle again with the beginning, Elon Musk will probably fly around the moon and wants to accompany the whole thing for a week with a 3D project, which you then can watch on virtual reality glasses, realistic?

Marcus: Absolutely, so even now showing on our website you can already fly in a 3D-scan with data point cloud through a spaceship that is located in Düsseldorf.

Stefan: Thank you very much Marcus Mitter from 360-up in Düsseldorf.