Interview with Bernard Frischer, Founder of Flyover Zone, and Nathanael Tavares, CEO of Flyover Zone

Questions for Email Interviews with Bernard & Nathanael, 2021
By TammyJo Eckhart, PhD

TammyJo Eckhart: We start 2021 with an interview with two senior members of the Flyover Zone team: Founder and President Bernard Frischer and CEO/CTO Nathanael Tavares. Thank you both for answering my questions and giving us some insight into the company and what users can expect going forward.

Before we look to this year, let’s briefly talk about 2020. I know that Flyover Zone had a lot of travel and live presentation planned for the past year that the pandemic made impossible. Do you think there were any positives that came out of needing to adjust the work schedule for 2020 in terms of app development?

Bernard Frischer: We had hoped to do a lot more travel in 2020 than turned out to be possible. The silver lining for us was that, cooped up at home, our team could focus exclusively on the development of new teletours and historic games. We increased our productivity and, more importantly, we had some new ideas about automating the process of creating new products that we are in the final stages of implementing. So, 2021 promises to be even more productive, even though we fervently hope that we can resume our intense travel schedule once the anti-COVID vaccines are widely distributed.

Nathanael Tavares: I think there were several positives that came out of the year 2020. Flyover Zone was able to focus solely on product development. We made many big technical advances last year. Examples include publishing our applications on the iOS and Android mobile platforms, releasing our first virtual reality game, and redesigning the user interface of our applications.

TE: 2020 saw several new apps released by Flyover Zone– Hadrian’s Villa Reborn: South Theater, Hadrian’s Villa Reborn: Stadium Garden, and Historical Games: Chariot Racing – as well as a remastered Rome Reborn: Roman Forum. That seems like a large number of releases. How many releases do you foresee for 2021?

BF: 2021 will see Flyover expanding its coverage beyond Rome and its hinterland. The first quarter will see the release of “Baalbek Reborn: Temples.” Then, we will publish the first teletours presenting ancient Athens and Egypt. In Athens, we’re starting with the Acropolis; in Egypt, with the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut at Karnak. We will also be publishing at least two more historical games set in ancient Rome: “Gladiator!” and “Animal Hunt!” Speaking of Rome, we will be remastering “Rome Reborn: Pantheon” and “Rome Reborn: Flight over Ancient Rome.” We will also be making available an app that bundles all our tours in one place, gives users the first stop or two at no cost (letting them pay only if they want to take the full tour), and also supports many users on a tour at the same time. They’ll be able to communicate via gesturing, texting, or talking. Finally, we’ve put together a team of experienced teachers who will be publishing many more lesson plans aimed at American middle school and high school courses in Geography, History, and Latin.

TE: Flyover Zone offers different categories of 3D programs – Reborn, 3D Art, Historical Games, and Great Monuments. May we talk about each briefly so that we can understand the differences? 

The Reborn series is the original type of program that Flyover Zone makes. Would you describe these as primarily educational programs, or could the average layperson utilize them?

BF: We try to design the tours so that they are appealing and comprehensible to both students and the general public. For students, our products can be considered virtual field trips. For the general public, they are equivalent to a trip abroad to see cultural heritage sites and monuments. We think this definition of our audience is only natural. If you think of the last time you were in the Roman Forum or on the Acropolis, you undoubtedly saw throngs of the general public punctuated by school groups.

TE: What new programs in the Reborn series is Flyover Zone hoping to release in 2021?

BF: As I’ve mentioned, in 2021 we’ll be publishing some new historical games set in ancient Rome, and we will be remastering the tours of the Pantheon and the flight over the entire city in a hot air balloon. In terms of the next Roman monument to be presented for the first time, my prediction is that it will be the Baths of Caracalla, undertaken in conjunction with the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, though I can’t promise that it will be finished in 2021. We also haven’t forgotten about the Imperial Palace (Domus Augustana) and the Imperial Fora, though our little team is so busy with other projects that we’ve put them onto the back burner for the time being. In general, we feel that we should balance our offerings by adding some major destinations in other important cultures such as ancient Greece and Egypt before expending more effort on ancient Rome in particular. 

TE: Flyover Zone is also on Sketchfab where hundreds of 3D models of historical art that the company have made can be found. I know there are plans to create a virtual museum using these models. Is there a timeline for what that project may be open to the public?

BF: Yes, in the first half of 2021 we are planning to reorganize our models into a single virtual museum with galleries dedicated to certain cultures. Thus, we’ll have galleries for Athens, Egypt, Rome, and post-antique art. We will also be offering our first teletours of works of art, starting with sculptures from the Baths of Caracalla such as the Farnese Bull and the Hercules Farnese. 

TE: The Historical Games series was brand new in 2020. While these are games that people play, aren’t they are still educational tools to some extent? How difficult is to balance the desires of gamers with the educational goals?

BF: Indeed, these products offer games, which means they are intended to be as entertaining to our users today as the ancient Romans found them. On the other hand, they also include tours of the venues in which they are housed such as the Circus Maximus and the Ludus Magnus, so in a sense they can be considered another kind of tour with a highly interactive feature appropriate to the place being visited. The games themselves have been recreated with strict attention to the scholarship about how they were conducted. I daresay that a twelve-year-old who has learned to compete in a chariot race will know more about the rules of the event than the average professor of ancient history! So, even game play can offer a learning experience.

TE: There are Great Monuments programs in the queue for the future, but none are out yet. Would you explain to us how exactly Great Monuments will differ from the Reborn series or the 3D art models?

BF: The distinction in nomenclature is straightforward. We call a product a “reborn” when it involves heavy use of computer graphics to reconstruct the sites presented, which are mainly ruins today. Typically, we offer lots of “time warps” that allow the user to toggle between the ruins and the reconstructions. In contrast, we classify a virtual tour as a “great monument” when we take you to a destination that is well preserved and therefore needs little, if any, digital restoration.

TE: Which Great Monuments apps by Flyover Zone may be available to the public in 2021?

BF: The main examples this year will concern sites in Egypt which are still well-preserved such as the pyramids of Giza and the Tomb of Ramesses VI. We will also classify the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut as a great monument because its various fragments were integrated, and the missing bits supplemented. In other words, it has undergone what is technically called “anastylosis.”

TE: I know that Flyover Zone listens to user feedback and there are remastering of all of the company’s series in the works. What is the best way for a user to contact the company?

NT: The best way for someone to reach out is to email us directly at contact@flyoverzone.com. Another method is by filling out the contact us form on our website. We appreciate any feedback and suggestions, even criticism, any of our users may have.

TE: Let’s switch focus toward the business side of Flyover Zone. How would you describe the main goal for the company in 2021?

NT: We are fortunate to be in a very strong financial position, and this allows us to continue investing and building out not only new virtual destinations but also new departments of the company. To date, we have done almost no active marketing, so I would say our top business priority this year is to sign up a marketing agency and to start promoting our products and services in a more active way than we have done in the past. 

BF: I think the most important thing we need to do is diversify our portfolio of teletours by moving beyond Rome and environs. We are close to completing our first two tours presenting sites in ancient Athens and Egypt. They should be released in the first half of 2021. We plan to add other cultures later in the year and in subsequent years.

NT: I think that our top goal is to reconfigure what we offer from a series of individual teletours to a single teletour app. The app integrates all our tours in one place. Users will be able to try out the first couple of stops on a tour at no cost before deciding if they want to purchase the entire tour. 

BF: I know you asked about our “main goal” (singular), but if I may, I would add a second important goal. This is to make our 3D digitization service known to museums around the world, starting, especially, with the USA. Because of COVID-19, most American museums had to close their doors for long stretches of time. Some tried to continue fulfilling their mission by offering occasional virtual online tours. Most of the time what was billed as a “virtual tour” was a synchronous Powerpoint or a YouTube video on Zoom. There is nothing wrong with that, but we think that by digitizing its 3D masterpieces and displaying them on its website with related written and oral interpretation, a museum can offer permanent virtual tours of its collections. This can help the museum to fulfill its mission of public outreach not only during this period of pandemic but also in more normal times. Virtual tours can also expand a museum’s reach from its immediate vicinity to an international audience. Flyover stands ready to put together such virtual tours. In 2021, we should be concluding our first deal to create one (the negotiation started last year and is far advanced). We can and should be doing a lot more of this, but at the moment, owing to our lack of marketing, few museums out there know that we offer this service. We hope to do better in 2021.

TE: You mentioned diversification of the portfolio. Why is this important?

BF: UNESCO’s Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation states, “the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes increases the knowledge of the civilization of humanity, enriches the cultural life of all peoples and inspires mutual respect and appreciation among nations.” We see Flyover Zone’s mission as virtualizing such interchange because doing so makes it far less expensive and far more accessible than ever before. Flyover’s mission is precisely what UNESCO declared: enriching the cultural life of all peoples and inspiring mutual respect and appreciation among the peoples of the world. To do that, we need to offer our followers representative sites and monuments in as many countries as possible and not limit ourselves to a single cultural area. I think this is especially important for our young followers: the sooner they encounter the great monuments created by humans all over the world from the Neolithic until today, the less likely they will be to fall into the trap of particularism: privileging one culture over all the others.

TE: So, the categories of applications and programs Flyover Zone is offering – Reborn, 3D Art, Historical Games, and Great Monuments – reflect that diversity across time and geographic location.

TE: The pandemic is still a factor in 2021, when vaccines are widely used and it becomes safer to travel again, I know that Flyover Zone wants to get back out onto the convention circuit and meet with people face-to-face to show the apps. Where would you like to visit to demonstrate the company’s products in 2022 or 2023?

BF: In 2019 and January 2020 we had booths at NCSS, AHA, and BETT. We found the reaction to our company to be quite encouraging, and even closed several deals in 2020 as a result of the new contacts we made. So, we are eager to return to those events and to be present at additional conferences such as AAM and ISTE. 

NT: In general, we have found that since the general public is not yet as familiar with the concept of teletourism as it is with telemedicine, teleconferencing, telework, etc., our best sales target is other businesses. So, I agree that we need to return to trade shows as quickly as COVID permits, and we need to develop a marketing strategy that is more B2B than B2C. Note that we are not giving up in the B2C market, in fact we have a strong desire to build out a B2C strategy in the coming years once we get our Teletours application developed, publicly released and are able to offer a wide range of tours. In 2020, as a result of having booths in various trade shows, we signed distribution deals with Victory XR and HTC Vive. We need to continue getting our products out to the schools and general public by making more deals with businesses that will allow us to create more content and increase our brand recognition and company image.

TE: Thank you both for talking with me today. There is a lot to look forward to, so I encourage everyone to check out our website (https://www.flyoverzone.com/) and sign up for our newsletter (https://www.flyoverzone.com/subscribe/).

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