Two projects recreate Mayflower for 400th anniversary of sailing

[The two stories below, from Auganix and Business Up North, describe different efforts to use presence-evoking technology to recreate aspects of the sailing of the English ship Mayflower from England to the New World in 1620 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the iconic journey. –Matthew]

University of Birmingham team creates Virtual Reality reconstruction of the Mayflower pilgrim vessel for 400th anniversary of sailing

September 16, 2020
By Sam Sprigg, Managing Editor

Experts from the University of Birmingham have developed a virtual reality (VR) reconstruction of the Mayflower, one of the earliest pilgrim vessels and a cultural icon in the history of the United States, that will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail for America.

The Virtual Mayflower project recreates the Barbican Harbour area in Plymouth in the 1620s – allowing VR users to board a small boat at the original site of the Mayflower Steps before taking a short journey out to the ship and experience passengers and crew preparing to set sail.

The project, which was led by Professor Bob Stone, Director of the Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team at the University of Birmingham, involved VR experts from the University, and was six years in the making. It uses computer-based interactive technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality (AR) to recreate history.

Professor Stone commented: “Virtual Mayflower is a magnificent way to commemorate a key point in history that shaped the development of the United States – an immersive experience that transports the viewer back to Plymouth in 1620.” He added, “As well as being a great demonstration of the power of VR and AR technology, this has been a collaborative and educational exercise involving members of the public, local historians, schoolchildren, artists and actors – all contributing to the development of highly detailed and authentic virtual models and scenes.”

Professor Stone and the HIT worked with a range of partner organisations on the project, including Royal Leamington Spa College, responsible for developing the virtual characters, including the Pilgrims, Barbican inhabitants, plus the passengers and crew (including an avatar of senior Pilgrim Edward Winslow). Also involved was Bluestone 360, a Plymouth, UK-based agency that will be hosting the simulation online. Specialist digital artists and VR specialists Robert Guest and Chris Harvey also worked on the project to help coordinate the development of the 3D assets.

Professor stone continued: “Virtual Mayflower presented more of a challenge than the Anne, as we wanted the project to be both collaborative and educational” adding, “We also developed an international partnership, involving groups and talents in the US such as Plimoth Plantation and schools in Plymouth, Massachusetts to deliver a truly ‘hands across the Atlantic’ cultural legacy.”

The team has also been developing VR and complex navigational animation sequences for the Plymouth-based company MSUBS as part of its Mayflower Autonomous Ship project, which involves a vessel that has been designed to reproduce the transatlantic crossing of the Pilgrims using state-of-the-art maritime sensing and AI technologies.

The project can be found live online at and is being launched today to coincide with the anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure from Plymouth on 16 September, 1620.

[From Business Up North, where the original story includes the 13:27 minute video, which is also available on YouTube.]

360 Video Explores 400th Anniversary Of The Mayflower Journey

September 3, 2020

On 16th September 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to the New World. Carrying 102 Puritan passengers, the ship spent ten weeks crossing the treacherous Atlantic Ocean before arriving in Massachusetts on 11th November. With 2020 being the 400th anniversary of its historic journey, Mayflower Reflections is a virtual reality film that explores this momentous voyage.

Believing that the Church of England was beyond redemption, the Puritans abandoned their country in search of a place where they could pray openly and live without fear of persecution. A similar exodus of people can still be seen today, with refugees giving up their livelihoods to seek sanctuary overseas. Created by MBD, an arts organisation specialising in creative digital storytelling, Mayflower Reflections is a 12-minute immersive experience that asks how far we have come since the ship’s passengers set out their idea of a constitution for a free world.

Charlotte Angharad is Business Director at MBD: “Mayflower Reflections is as much about today’s political landscape as it is the early settlements of the Plymouth Colony. The film’s unifying themes analyse the world in which we live, acting as a reminder of the struggles of the past, an overview of our present, and a chance to imagine a brighter future.”

MBD has been working with new technologies for many years, applying games engines, 3D design and live render software to create vibrant digital environments. For the most immersive experience, Mayflower Reflections is best watched in a VR headset, but it can also be watched on a mobile or desktop. The viewer can click and drag the mouse across the screen or move their phone around to explore these virtual surroundings. The film is an educational narrative, inviting you to consider the parallels between the historic voyage and the movement of people in our modern world. Simultaneously, it enables the audience to feel they are part of the journey through the immersive nature of virtual reality and 360-degree video.

Whilst visually stunning, Mayflower Reflections uses smooth scene transitions to amplify the themes of motion, change, renewal and the pursuit of freedom. In the process, it shows how the plights of 17th century pilgrims and contemporary refugees are surprisingly similar. It concludes with excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, highlighting the importance of acceptance and an individual’s right to seek protection in other countries.

Mayflower Reflections is funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund and supported by Mayflower 400 and Pilgrim Roots. It was created with the help of Dr Anna Scott of the University of Lincoln, who provided valuable insight into the journeys made by the Puritans of the North in particular.

Charlotte adds: “There’s so much conversation about the Mayflower legacy, but our film instead focuses on why would people get on a boat and risk their lives. We’re still seeing this in the news today, with families fleeing their homes without any guarantee that they’ll get to the other side. We’re shining a light on these brave souls in the hope that society takes notice and viewers play their part in extending a helping hand.”

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