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Visualising Voices

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Who: Collaboration between academics and researchers within the UWE Department of Art and Design and the ss Great Britain Trust, funded by an AHRC Knowledge Catalyst award

What: The story of the salvage and return of the ss Great Britian from the Falkland Islands back to Bristol from the personal viewpoint of those involved in her rescue and the people of Bristol who gathered in their thousands to celebrate the great ship’s homecoming.

Why: Marking the 40th anniversary of the return to Bristol of Brunel’s groundbreaking and innovative development in nautical engineering the ss Great Britain.

Where: Bristol

When: 2010

Project descriptionAnimation still, ss Great Britain&#039;s return

The Visualising Voices project entailed the creation of an animated documentary, The Incredible Journey to mark the 40th anniversary of the salvage and return of the ss Great Britain in 1970 from what was nearly her final resting place in the Falkland Islands.

The film covers the ss Great Britain’s salvage from her resting place on the seabed at Sparrow Cove in the Falkland Islands, her return across the Atlantic to Avonmouth and the final leg of the journey upstream on the Bristol Avon to the very dock where she was launched 127 years earlier to the day.

Utilising the oral history archive, it built creatively upon the individual voices and stories and interpreted them using a range of digital technologies. Through this it was possible for the first time for a number of key elements of the salvage never having been seen or explained before to be represented in a form both accessible and understandable for a wide and geographically diverse audience. The film remains true to the events and the technical aspects of the salvage while telling the story in an informative and engaging manner.

The project was conceived and designed to combine the multi-disciplinary expertise in communication design within Department of Art and Design at the University of the West of England, Bristol and the subject, curatorial and archive expertise from within the ss Great Britain Trust. The project marks the start of a new relationship between the UWE and the ss Great Britain Trust.

“The 'Visualising Voices' project is a first for the ss Great Britain Trust and is an exciting development for the museum sector." Rhian Tritton, Director of Museum and Educational Services


The aim of the Knowledge Catalyst proposal for a 15 month project entitled Visualising Voices, was to develop interesting and innovative methods of communicating the story of the ss Great Britain’s salvage project in a significantly unusual manner utilising a range of material and research sources thereby realising the full potential impact of the existing material and new data collected.

“We will be using material from the oral history interviews carried out by ss Great Britain Trust as a source of inspiration. The way the material will be presented will vary, but some of the voices will be taken directly from the oral histories and used as a soundtrack.

The work will be suitable for a number of different platforms so as to be as widely accessible as possible - for example online, on-site at the museum and broadcast.” Gill Sandford, Head of Bristol School of Animation and Associate Dean, UWE

The key motivators of the Visualising Voices project are audience-centred narrative techniques:

  • Representation - to support the audience in visualising the stories told by the oral histories;
  • Simulation – accurate visual reconstruction of method and techniques used in the salvage operation;
  • Interpretation – enabling the visual artist to emphasise or explore selected elements of the story to encourage emotional and intellectual engagement.

The Visualising Voices project has added value to the oral records by:

  • Visualising the range of ‘voices’ represented in the oral history project and communicating selected personal accounts in a manner that will engage the audience;
  • Representing the astonishing effort of the salvage operation, from the highly technical aspects to the compelling anecdotal accounts;
  • Interpreting events by drawing on and synthesising a range of evidence to tell a coherent story.

Results and outcome

What worked well

animation stillThe animated film

The Incredible Journey is now on view to the public in a specially created gallery as part of a larger exhibition on the ss Great Britain, ensuring that the story of the ship's rescue and return reaches new audiences in an innovative and engaging way.

While animation is being utilised increasingly within live action film making and documentaries there are few examples of animated documentaries that attempt to cover the material in the same manner as The Incredible Journey. 

The film utilises a range of processes that marry the traditional and the most up to date CG modelling techniques in order to specifically cover all aspects of the salvage project, from the highly technical to the human story. In order to achieve this it was essential to draw upon the skills of a range of experts within each field.

The Incredible Journey has been selected for the Animated Encounters South West category in the Encounters Short Film Festival (Watershed, Bristol, 16-21 November 2010).


The project initiated new ways for the museum and university to work together bringing together the academics, museum curators, archivists and a range of specialists within media production, animation and design under the supervision of the research team to create the animation and exhibition.

The collaboration between the researchers from UWE and representatives from the ss Great Britain Trust was very close throughout the project with each making significant contributions to the development of the project from script to screen. This relationship built on trust, mutual respect and good communication ensured a highly successful outcome to the project.

Discussions have already taken place about how further possible collaborations between the two organisations may be built.

What didn’t work well

Other than the usual difficulties faced within the production of such an ambitious animated film, the project encountered no difficulties at all.

Resources required

Chris Webster – Project Lead (UWE), Sophie Klevenow – Principal Investigator (UWE), Kate Rambridge – Enterprise Partner (ss GB)

Top Tips

  1. Establish clear agreed aims and objectives. Create a good plan of action with a list of deliverables, establish milestones and deadlines. Identify what can be done and what cannot be done.
  2. It is essential to maintain good communication throughout any collaborative project. Be quick to identify any problems and share them with the relevant people while avoiding panic within the rest of the team.
  3. Keep an open mind, be willing to listen to others and take on board suggestions, the project is the main thing, not the individual or ego’s and remain positive throughout.
  4. Be pragmatic and willing to change as circumstances dictate.


Name: Chris Webster

Name of organisation: Department of Art and Design, UWE


Telephone: 0117 32 84716