Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling

The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film

By Shilo T. McClean

How digital visual effects in film can be used to support storytelling: a guide for scriptwriters and students.





How digital visual effects in film can be used to support storytelling: a guide for scriptwriters and students.

Computer-generated effects are often blamed for bad Hollywood movies. Yet when a critic complains that "technology swamps storytelling" (in a review of Van Helsing, calling it "an example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood computer-generated effects movies"), it says more about the weakness of the story than the strength of the technology. In Digital Storytelling, Shilo McClean shows how digital visual effects can be a tool of storytelling in film, adding narrative power as do sound, color, and "experimental" camera angles—other innovative film technologies that were once criticized for being distractions from the story. It is time, she says, to rethink the function of digital visual effects.

Effects artists say—contrary to the critics—that effects always derive from story. Digital effects are a part of production, not post-production; they are becoming part of the story development process. Digital Storytelling is grounded in filmmaking, the scriptwriting process in particular. McClean considers crucial questions about digital visual effects—whether they undermine classical storytelling structure, if they always call attention to themselves, whether their use is limited to certain genres—and looks at contemporary films (including a chapter-long analysis of Steven Spielberg's use of computer-generated effects) and contemporary film theory to find the answers. McClean argues that to consider digital visual effects as simply contributing the "wow" factor underestimates them. They are, she writes, the legitimate inheritors of film storycraft.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262134651 320 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 19 illus.


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262633697 320 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 19 illus.


  • Shilo T. McClean, in her Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film, agrees with much of what we have claimed about the survival of classical filmmaking.... She builds upon our case by examining systematically and imaginatively the question of whether digital special effects support narrative interest. McClean convincingly demonstrates that DVFx (digital visual effects), as she terms them, are used in an enormous variety of ways, and most of these help to tell classically constructed stories.... McClean asks questions of aesthetic import, and she treats films as artworks—some good, some bad, but all to be taken seriously as evidence for her case.

    Kristin Thompson

    David Bordwell's Website on Cinema


  • Overturning conventional wisdom that digital effects have taken over Hollywood and destroyed good storytelling, McClean shows that the classical art of storytelling is very much alive in contemporary film and that it shapes and motivates the use of digital effects, not vice versa. Drawing on her professional experience as a script editor and visual effects consultant, her analysis of the interplay between narrative and visual effects is sophisticated and clearly presented, and includes case studies of films such as Alien, The Lord of the Rings, and Hero. Smart, compelling, and incisive, Digital Storytelling is an essential text that will change the debate over the place of digital effects in contemporary film.

    Stephen Prince

    Professor of Communication, Virginia Tech

  • This is an important book for screenwriters. Shilo McClean provides a thoughtful study of the role of digital visual effects in filmmaking, and she does so in a manner that challenges, provokes, and inspires the writer to embrace the technology in order to liberate the imagination. I recommend this work to all my students, as well as to any aspiring screenwriter.

    Paul Thompson

    Associate Professor, Department of Film and Television, New York University, and former Head of Film and Television, Austrailian Film, Television and Radio School

  • Engaging and insightful, well-researched and intelligent, McClean's book effectively chronicles the development of, and increasing reliance on, digital visual effects, the use of which is now virtually indespensible to the filmmaking process. More important, she contextualizes the use of visual effects as an evolving set of techniques that, while greatly expanding the possibilities for contemporary filmmaking, remain simply another powerful set of tools in the service of the ancient art of storytelling and mythmaking. Essential for 21st century filmmakers.

    Mike Chambers

    Visual Effects Producer