Knox Graduate Edits Animated Film ParaNorman

Chris Murrie: Puppets yield better 3D; film also makes statement against bullying

August 03, 2012

Chris Murrie, photo courtesy Laika
Chris Murrie '95, senior film editor at Laika, with poster for new animated feature, ParaNorman

As more films are released in 3D, "audiences have become much more skeptical about the technology," according to Christopher Murrie, a 1995 Knox graduate who edited the new 3D animated feature, ParaNorman. Opening August 17, the film is produced by Laika, an animation studio in Portland, Oregon, where Murrie is senior film editor.

Chris Murrie at Laika

There's more to ParaNorman than a comic thriller about a boy who sees zombies. Making a statement against "bullying" is at the core of the film's message, according to writer/director Chris Butler, who modeled the main character after himself and the bullying that he experienced in school.

The theme carried through to others involved in the production, said senior film editor Chris Murrie:

"Thematically, the topic of individuality and the struggle to 'fit' was present from the start. Bullying is, unfortunately, a very real part of many kids experiences.

"One of the things I loved about Chris's script, from the very beginning, is that the bullies aren't defeated with violence or humiliation. Without giving anything away, one of the more explicit messages of the film is a warning against using anger and violence as a defense against cruelty. Norman succeeds, not by beating up the bullies or humiliating them, but by the strength of his character and his compassion for them as people.

"These ideas were part of the DNA of the script and we consciously looked for ways to strengthen and reinforce them as we honed the film."

People are "wary of spending the extra money on an effect that, done carelessly, detracts from the experience," said Murrie, who co-edited Laika's first full-length animated feature, Coraline, released in 2009 and nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Feature Film. Murrie's work on Coraline was recognized with an "Eddie" nomination for Best Edited Animated Feature Film from American Cinema Editors USA. C|net praised Coraline as one of a half-dozen "Best 3D Movies."

ParaNorman achieves "best use of 3D technology"
What sets ParaNorman and Coraline apart from other 3D animations is the company's use of hand-made, stop-motion puppets, instead of computer-generated -- CG -- images.

"All of our sets, puppets and props are real things, which gives them a tangibility that I believe is very hard to replicate in CG," Murrie said in an interview just before the release of ParaNorman. "You can actually sense the handmade physicality of the world we create. 3D brings this to life in a very real way.

"The fact that ParaNorman and Coraline were designed for and shot in 3D makes the best use of the technology. I would like to think that ParaNorman will be among those films that prove that 3D can work well when done with care and an eye towards supporting the story."

Murrie majored in studio art at Knox. As production manager at the campus radio station, WVKC, he created sound effects and mixed live music shows. He found both academics and extracurriculars to be valuable preparation for work as a film editor.

"Editing certainly pulls from many different disciplines," Murrie says. "You need a good eye for framing and composition, which I developed at Knox in the art department. I tend to think of editing as being very musical as well. Creating a pace is about establishing rhythm and knowing how to play accents against that rhythm, as well as how to develop it."

According to Murrie, film editing now involves sound more than it did in the past, especially for animated features.

Work on soundtrack at Skywalker Ranch
"We create a temporary soundtrack, so the animation can be created against an existing framework," Murrie says. "ParaNorman had a lot of complex action and sound design that demanded a high level of detail in our temp soundtrack. Ultimately, all the sound effects get rebuilt by designers late in the production."

Because of Murrie's extended involvement with the design of ParaNorman, he also supervised the final sound work, spending five weeks at Skywalker Sound, the world-famous post-production facility built by George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch north of San Francisco.

"Working at Skywalker is unlike any professional experience I've had," Murrie says. "On our final day we were given a tour of the Lucasfilm archives. I got to wander through shelf after shelf of models, props, and costumes. I touched the Ark of the Covenant prop from 'Raiders.' I was fighting back tears at one point. I could feel ripples of excitement that stretched all the way back to my five-year-old self seeing the original 'Star Wars' in the theater with my Dad."