XR and the Mary Rose | The Mary Rose
XR and the Mary Rose
Collections | 05 Sep, 2022 | The Collections Team
In this month's collections blog, find out how we're working with the University of Portsmouth to find new ways of sharing the Mary Rose's story.

"I’m Tana, and I’ve been the Weston Heritage Curatorial Intern this summer with the Mary Rose Trust. Over the last few months, I’ve been fortunate to get involved in the fantastic work which has led to some new temporary installations in partnership with the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Creative and Immersive Extended Reality (CCIXR). As part of the Enabling XR Enterprise (eXRe) project, the CCIXR development team have been working with our researchers to create alternative ways to tell the story of the Mary Rose through immersive technology. And so, this blog post is about the new Extended Reality exhibits recently added to the museum experience!"

First things first, what is Extended Reality (or XR)?   

XR is a relatively new and exciting field of technology.  It is the blanket term covering Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality. Virtual Reality involves placing users within a fully digital environment. Augmented Reality consists of adding some virtual elements to a person’s actual surroundings. Finally, Mixed Reality is a merging of the physical and digital, where objects co-exist in both worlds; for example, you’re playing a virtual video game, but you could pick up a real stick next to you and throw it for a virtual dog to catch. With XR providing many new ways to see and interact with the world around us, it’s easy to see why museums jump at the opportunity to use it to help explore their collections.  

How does the Mary Rose Museum use Extended Reality? 

XR offers endless possibilities for adding new depth to interpreting artefacts and archaeology and creating immersive experiences that visitors can enjoy and learn from. However, it can be easy to see XR installations as a gimmick; there only to be an impressive piece of tech for visitors to comment politely about how ‘cool’ it is. And while, yes, it is indeed very cool, at the Mary Rose Museum, we only use XR which will bring a new way of looking at the Mary Rose and her story. All our XR displays and exhibits from the CCIXR act as a tool to bring visitors closer to the stories and history of our collection. 

The eXRe development team used software called Unreal Engine to create a 3D underwater environment, depicting a diver’s perspective of the Mary Rose on the seabed. This environment has then been transformed into some different interactive experiences using some exciting technology!

Let’s have a closer look at some of the fantastic temporary XR exhibits you can come and see at the Mary Rose




When looking at what remains of the wreck, it can be difficult to understand how the entire ship would have come together around it - first-time visitors often can’t tell which end is the bow and which is the stern! So the team behind the holofan decided it would be a perfect tool to help visitors contextualise what remains of the Mary Rose and how it would have formed part of the complete ship. 

The holofan, found on the upper deck, uses four super-fast spinning blades with changing LED lights to create a hologram display. It plays a looping video of the wreck, as it was recovered from the seabed, transforming into a model of the original ship, wind billowing in her sails. The model of the ship slowly spins so visitors can see a 360 view. The first part of the short animation is based on photogrammetry of the wreck (where overlapping photographs have been digitally stitched together to create a 3D model). The second part of the complete ship is a 3D reconstruction based on research on the remaining archaeological evidence as to what the ship would have looked like in 1545.

Leap Motion

Leap Motion

The Leap Motion is a small device found in the object handling area in the museum’s upper decks gallery. It is a touchless controller that tracks hand movement so users can interact with the underwater environment displayed on a screen.

One thing that we can’t easily show our visitors is what the wreck looked like underwater; many underwater photographs are murky due to the silts in the Solent waters. So the Portsmouth University team has developed an excellent digital environment of the wreck on the seabed, which visitors can explore. Producing the wreck environment and the soundscape was done in collaboration with Mary Rose Staff, particularly our Head of Research and Interpretation (and one of the original divers!), Alex Hildred. She provided first-hand experience of what it was like to excavate the ship when it lay underwater, even down to the details of the cuttlefish! The interactive display lets visitors travel through the ship's decks as she lays on her starboard side. In addition, you can interact with some objects discovered from the shipwreck by waving your hand toward them.

Wreck Model Animation

Wreck Model Animation

Another display from the CCIXR will soon be coming to the museum's first gallery. Similar to what the Leap Motion interactive explores, this 3D animation will take visitors down onto the seabed to see a diver’s perspective on a journey through the wreck. While this display won’t be interactive, it will still be an excellent opportunity to see what the ship looked like laying under the Solent. The animation is from the first-person point of view and will travel through the ship’s decks as artefacts found during excavations start to form in their original places. Then, as the camera travels through the decks, you will begin to see the rest of the ship rebuild itself around the wreck from the sediment on the seabed.  

So, with all these new and exciting interactives and displays in the museum ready for the 40th anniversary of the raising on October 11th, it’s a brilliant time to come and see the Mary Rose as you’ve never seen her before!

Mary Rose eXRe project outputs were created in partnership with CCIXR.

Academic Lead: Brett Stevens
Producer: Hattie Ball
Designer: Marc Cook
3D artists: Iyioluwa Owoyemi
                 Douglas Wager
                 Nikki Mundy
Sound Design/Composition: Ashley Keep