The Journey to Iron Island

08 September 2021


08 September 2021


Get exclusive behind the scenes access to our immersive multimedia experience!

The ship’s hull takes center-stage in our new immersive multimedia experience. We have dramatically transformed the dry dock into a huge digital projection theatre, bringing the ocean back to the SS Great Britain for the first time in over 50 years.

This was an ambitious project which aimed to not only submerge the ship in an underwater world, but also surround her in history by bringing passenger diaries to life.

The process for creating this digital voyage was hugely collaborative. The SS Great Britain brought aboard poet Saili Katebe, composer Joe Acheson, and multimedia creative studio, Limbic Cinema, to take the ship on a journey into her past.

Danielle Vincent photographs Kate Rambridge, Natalie Fey, Saili Katebe and Limbic Cinema getting inspired around the ship’s hull

Saili Katebe worked closely with the team at the Brunel Institute to dig into the archives and discover the story behind the SS Great Britain.

Speaking on the writing process, Saili highlighted how ‘it was hard to distill it just to one small moment because there’s so much to tell.’

Saili’s spoken word not only focuses on innovation, science and history behind the SS Great Britain, but also takes inspiration from passenger diary entries which detail courageous tales of new beginnings, risks and perseverance.

“We were trying to address the role the ship played with immigration and changing the course of family stories, changing the course of individual stories.”

Limbic Cinema then combined projection, lighting and surround sound to bring Saili’s words and Joe Acheson’s score to life on the ship’s hull.

Thom Buttery, founder and creative director at Limbic Cinema, said:

“The combination of the iron hull, glass sea overhead, and centuries-old brickwork make this a spectacular location acoustically and visually. Digital storytelling enables us to expand beyond the confines of the space. By augmenting the moving image with the ship itself we are able to create a real sense that the ship is in motion again.”

Danielle Vincent photographs Limbic Cinema constructing the installation

Through Limbic Cinema’s immersive installation visitors can witness the SS Great Britain in her prime. The ship belongs in the ocean, it travelled more than a million miles at sea and still carries traces of salt in her iron hull.

Kate Rambridge, Head of Interpretation and Programming at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, said:

“although she’ll never sail again, digital multimedia can bring the sea back to the ship and show how she performed in that element – so that audiences can see her, once again, as resilient, graceful and dynamic.”

There were many practical and logistical challenges to overcome in terms of creating an immersive cinema space in a humidity controlled historic Dry Dock complete with glass paneled ceiling!

Darkening the space was no easy feat, a layer of water covers the glass ceiling and on a normal day the sun beams down creating refractions of light all over the dry dock.

Natalie Fey documents the Dry Dock transformation 

The team used black pond dye along with black out sheets to make the space dark enough to turn it into a projection theatre experience.

Natalie Fey, Interpretation Manager at the SS Great Britain, came up with inventive solutions to keeping the dry dock safe whilst in its darkened state. ‘We produced creative but effective barriers that would also act as interpretive dressing: fake seaweed, fishing nets and old rope with a little glow in the dark tape!’

Limbic Cinema were tasked with digitally bringing the ocean to life against the iron hull and walls of the dry dock. Thom Buttery said that:

“One of the most challenging things about the installation was creating the sense of motion and movement within the dry dock – due to its translucency water can be a tricky customer to visualise.

Limbic Cinema start constructing Iron Island

It was important to bring tangible landscapes into the scenes to help create the sense of momentum.”

To create a realistic digital simulation of the ship at sea, the team at Limbic Cinema created a 3-D model of the iron hull using a technique called photogrammetry. Thom said this model was key in getting the projections to augment perfectly with structure of the ship.

“Once we had the 3D model, we created a water simulation which we could literally bounce off the hull, the water particles would react to the seams on the panels and rivets in the hull.”

Limbic Cinema’s 3-D model of the ship’s hull


The multisensory experience is set in three acts – ‘departure’, ‘storm’ and ‘ice fields’ – taking visitors on a journey across the ocean.

Saili’s spoken word piece highlights the bravery that comes with uprooting your life in search of a brighter future, a theme which stretches to contemporary culture:

Adam Gasson photographs poet Saili Katebe in front of Iron Island


‘We are joining a community

aboard an iron island,

carrying promises we made

on borrowed courage.


We confront the water

knowing nothing about the sea

sailing the full length of the globe

to make a difference.’




The team behind Iron Island have worked in a synergy to create a spectacular installation, transporting visitors into the mind of a voyager and leaving us all contemplating that perennial question:

‘What should you sacrifice today for a better tomorrow?’

Discover Iron Island while you have still have the chance!

Entry is included in admission to the SS Great Britain. Time slots are available to book from now until September 19.

Click here for more information on Iron Island.

Author: Ella Calland

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26 July 2021

Iron Island: the SS Great Britain refloated


1 July 2021

Iron Island poem