Utilising immersive technology to tell the incredible stories of the Mary Rose by Pippa Bostock | The Mary Rose
Utilising immersive technology to tell the incredible stories of the Mary Rose by Pippa Bostock
Fundraising | 09 Aug, 2023 | The Mary Rose
Collaborating with the Centre for Creative and Immersive XR at the University of Portsmouth

Over the last 18 months, the Mary Rose Trust has been lucky enough to collaborate with the Centre for Creative and Immersive XR at the University of Portsmouth. This cutting-edge, state of the art facility opened just 3 miles from the Historic Dockyard in early 2022, and The Mary Rose team were some of the first to work with the talented team of technologists and academics based there. As the Business Director of CCIXR, and then subsequently in early 2023 becoming the Director of Development, Engagement and Marketing at the Mary Rose, I had a unique perspective on the opportunities that the technology provided for the Mary Rose.  

Over the duration of the project Mary Rose staff including Dominic Jones, Hannah Matthews, Dr Alex Hildred, and Sally Tyrrell worked with the CCIXR team to enable a digital recreation of the Mary Rose as it was found on the seabed. A digital model of the ship was created, based on lidar scans, which was then transferred into Unreal Engine - the same real-time games engine that powers computer games such as Fortnite.  Creating the assets for the project within the Unreal Engine gave the CCIXR team flexibility, so that the same digital assets could be utilised to create a range of artefacts. Over the duration of the project, the team created a unique Holofan display (which has been on display in the Museum for just over a year), as well as a VR experience and a digital hand-controlled diving experience - which is still available for guests to try in the Museum today. Additionally, the team created a virtual production studio which enabled us to film some very special guests as if they were standing next to the ship whilst it was on the seabed. This is the same technology that was utilised to film TV programmes such as The Mandolorian, and was an incredible opportunity to explore options for the future.  

CCIXR VR headset, courtesy of University of Portsmouth, underwater experience of the Mary Rose

During the same time period, The Mary Rose, led by CEO Dominic Jones, was also developing its brand new 4D cinema, which opened Easter this year. Dive The Mary Rose 4D  has also been created using Unreal Engine, and was developed in partnership with Figment Productions. This incredible 42-seat cinema (with provision for wheelchairs and pushchairs) allows guests/visitors? to experience the raising of the Mary Rose from the perspective of the divers. As a member of the Steering Committee for the Dive 4D project, I was lucky enough to witness the team's commitment to ensuring attention to detail and historical accuracy,  as well as their incredible passion for the project.  

Dive the Mary Rose 4D - audience watching immersive 4D cinema experience

Authenticity is key to all of these experiences, each of the voices that you hear within Dive The Mary Rose 4D, and the VR experience, is the voice of a Mary Rose diver who was there at the time, and is a key part of The Mary Rose story. The Mary Rose, in her time, was cutting-edge Tudor technology, so the use of the latest  immersive technology to tell her story, and the story of her crew, today has always felt right to me.  

However, what I would never recommend is the use of technology simply for the sake of it.  Technology has to be used to augment - to do what would otherwise be impossible. The best use of technology is when the technology itself disappears - and you are just left with the magic. 

When you watch the Holofan, it's as if the ship is levitating in front of your eyes, and when you watch the ship appear in front of you through the magic of VR it's, quite simply, breathtaking. All of these technologies are just tools, but what they do give us is new ways to tell incredible stories - and The Mary Rose has a lot of those. Having spent the last 7 years advising on immersive technology projects, I've been lucky enough to experience some awe-inspiring technology. Being a part of bringing this technology to The Mary Rose has been an incredible experience, and I can't wait to see what we will develop next.   

Pippa Bostock, Marketing, Development and Fundraising Director of Mary Rose Trust in hard hat, in front on the hull of the Mary Rose