Search form

There’s A Riot Goin’ On: Frank Ternier’s Mixed-Media Short Explores the Violence of Social Injustice

Powerful experimental mixed-media short film from France was inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the choreography of Krumping, the popular Hip-Hop dance style born in South L.A.

All images courtesy of Frank Ternier.

Experimental filmmaker, graphic artist and animator Frank Ternier made waves with his 2014 short, 8 Bullets, a potent, multi-layered, hand-drawn tale of murder and revenge that immersed the audience in the primal instincts of criminal pursuit.

Now Ternier has returned with a new mixed-media project, Riot, which explores the intersection between rage and helplessness, marking the point where social injustice explodes into violence.

One of many standout shorts to be presented at this year’s edition of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Riot is jagged, visceral, and jarring. A blend of 2D and stop-motion animation and live-action footage, it was inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles riots that occurred in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial -- which saw the acquittal of the four LAPD officers involved in King’s horrific beating -- and the choreography of Krumping, the popular Hip-Hop dance style born in South L.A.

Riot was produced by animation collective Ideal Crash, which Ternier founded in his native France in 2008 in order to devote more time to his filmmaking projects. (Check out the studio’s impressive launch film.) In the nearly 13-and-a-half-minute short film, a young black man is killed in an altercation involving a vigilante neighbor and the police. An indignant crowd gathers, with a sense of injustice running high. The group becomes isolated, however, losing its power and voice. Noting that emotion engenders riot, Ternier’s film ultimately asks, “In the absence of words, can the body take its revenge?”

AWN had a chance to catch up with Ternier in Ottawa, at the beginning of Riot’s festival run, where we peppered him with questions about his latest project and what’s in store ahead. Read the full Q&A below:

Riot is comprised of hand-drawn 2D animation, torn paper, photographs and live-action footage. How were these elements combined to create the final film?

Frank Ternier

As you saw in my previous film, 8 Bullets, I like to mix techniques. Each technique either illustrates a proposition or a feeling. I try to create images more than situations, to try to stimulate the audience’s feelings. The animated sequences in this film illustrate the realist aspect of the narrative : the real-life background, the masses that form the riot, the destruction....

The live-action footage is less fact-based than the animated parts. They illustrate the feeling, the perception of an individual or group. It’s less realistic and more poetic, for example in the make-up scenes and dances.

The live-action footage depicts the body, either as a moving or a frozen silhouette. Bodies that observe, that tremble, that backtrack like a dance through an empty ghetto -- porous, pure of shape....

Technically, I use [Adobe] Photoshop and After Effects to combine all these media. And I try to have the most flexibility during the production to test and change elements of the film.

How was the overall look of the film developed? Are there specific visual references you wanted to evoke?

I did not use very many reference materials while working on the film. I saw the Krumpers for the dance aspect (especially the International Illest Battle organized by Madrootz in Paris) and then I look around me. If I have to cite references for the film, I will cite photographers -- Greeks, Americans, Tunisians, Egyptians and French -- who have made many photos of riots and rebellions. I was inspired by their color, the gestures of the protesters and the police.

Filmmaking is as much about harnessing emotion as it is about creating visuals. How do you want viewers to feel while watching Riot, and do you think the film succeeds in achieving this?

Yes, it is true that the creation of a film does not reside only in the narrative and I attach much importance to the sensations. Here for Riot, there was the idea of anger, of asking the question of violence but also of “How do I be heard? I cry, I cry, I speak...and then I can also be dancing or fighting.” It’s not question to do violence apologia but to ask the question of the violence: “If I am indignant, and no one listens to me, is it legitimate to use force and violence?”

Following the screening of the film at the OIAF, many people told they found the film very intense, very emotional...a film that resonates anger. I do not know if I succeeded in reaching my goal, but the film begins its career in festival and I have good return of the public -- notably with American audience members who have experienced similar events.

What drew you to Krumping as a vehicle for social commentary?

Krumping is a dance associated with the Hip-Hop culture of the ghettos of Los Angeles. Its popularity exploded in the 1990s. Is there a correlation between Krumping and the riots of 1992? I believe so. However, in spite of the aggressive style of the dance, with its abrupt movements and the rage and anger sometimes evident on the faces of the dancers, it also represents “life” and all its “joy.”

The physical, bodily expression becomes a last resort in the effort to be heard, a last place to channel one’s anger. Considering the impotence of words to express anger, the body acts as the film’s primary means of expression.

The choreography in the film was conceived to as an exercise of political thinking, a practice of confrontation, a step towards involvement. In Krumping, I saw a powerful form of expression that allowed me to choreograph the outraged body in all its tension, thus giving power and tension to the filmic image. As the sequences of real-life footage unfold, the tension on the streets -- of those who stand by without being able to say a word -- will become embodied in the movement of the dancers.

Krumping allowed me to question violence and craft a delicate regard on the gestures of these dancer-rioters such as throwing a Molotov cocktail, beating, being beaten, standing up, having doubts, etc. Choreography -- the dance -- is a tool of incarnation and incantation, expressing doubt, reflection, and helping us to become aware of the body and its actions, turning a precise gesture into a beautiful one, turning a violent gesture into an action of both poetic and heroic import.

Did you work with choreographers for the dance sequences? How were they staged?

For the choreography, I had written the intentions in the script and I had movements and attitudes in my head. Then we worked from with improvisation to found the figures and good energy.

My experience with theater and dance companies helped me communicate with the dancers, it was finally quite simple to find the form I wanted.

What size crew did you work with during production?

I work with the collective Ideal Crash that I founded a few years ago. It is a small team, with varied skills and we have experience in cinema, animation, theater and dance. On this project, Laurent Moulin, Magali Charrier for animation and Frederic Duzan for all the sound, music and voice of the speaker formed the team. The Camille Trophème collective was also an important external eye in the editing phase.

How long did it take to create the film, from pre-production through to completion? How long was each phase -- pre-production, production, and post-production?

it is a difficult question concerning my method of work. In fact it took eight months part-time to make the film. I work with a storyboard but I make evolve the film throughout the production...I initially created storyboards but they were used very little in the end.

During the working process, I’m trying to work simultaneously in animation, music, sound design, editing and the creation of graphics, with the goal that every element can influence each other. I try to work quickly in the editing phase to find the narrative ambiance in order feel the right rhythm and tension in the film.

What are some of the technologies used to create Riot?

To make the film, we used 3D for a part of the animations and I use Photoshop for the creation of all the [hand-drawn elements]. For the composition of the decors, I draw a part and I use photographs, textures and sometimes objects that have been modeled in 3D.

I like to compose my images with all these media and I change throughout the production. Then I finalize my lighting and ambiance with After Effect. Regarding the Krump part, we filmed and then we printed some of the pictures to paint on paper, then we photographed everything.

Who are some of your favorite experimental filmmakers, and why?

One of my director favorite film directors is Kim Ki Duk, because his films are strong -- he pushes a harsh aesthetic and his stories are often very strong. Its cinema touches me enormously, it can be poetic and rough at the same time. There are in his films as a necessity to exist...he makes films to interrogate us, provoke us, and for me it is essential.

I also love the work of David OReilly, his 3D minimalism leaves room for curious, funny worlds but his narrative always leaves room for a certain gene [self-consciousness], with disturbing and sometimes unhealthy scenes.

Riot has just begun its journey -- what are your plans for the film?

The film begins its life in festival, I am already very pleased with the selections to come. After Ottawa, we are in selection in Animatou (Geneva), then in Dok Leipzig and others. I am pleased to see that the film interests the festivals of animation, fiction and documentary.

I would also like to propose the film at the “Cinema and Dance” festival because the corps and the dance are very important in the film. Arte, who is a co-producer, will broadcast the film in France. It is already a very beautiful course for a short film. Finally, I wish my film travels and is presented here and there for it to question the public.

What are you working on now?

I have projects in mind, Anton, an animated film about adolescence ... I think to develop my work between real shooting and animation.

And I have two projects of short fiction - Call me YUMI and PARTY ANIMAL, two films combining fiction and choreography. The body will take an important place in these two projects.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.