What if it decides to fire?
October 17, 2013 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Полигон (Polygon), also called Firing Range, is a Soviet short film from 1977. It concerns a tank that is able to read the brain impulses of enemy soldiers, and the man who designed it. The generals have great plans for this tank, but the designer, and the tank, have other plans.

Полигон is based on the short story "Polygon", by Sever Gansovsky, who also wrote the short story collection Day of Wrath. The original "Polygon" short story can be downloaded here. (Google translation of that page.) The short story was later published in English as "The Proving Ground" in the book View From Another Shore.
posted by jiawen (13 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

Hmm, interesting.

The film was drawn in an unusual animation technique called photographica that consists of two celluloid layers for each character with special color schemes and with one of the layers out of focus to imitate the three-dimensional space rendering. The animation then actively moves the virtual camera to change perspective dynamically for each scene and give a sense of realism, without the use of any CGI methods (which weren't available at the time).
posted by Think_Long at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2013

The Wikipedia article doesn't cite anything for that, so I don't know if it's true or not, but it sounds cool, anyway. The animation style is certainly interesting.
posted by jiawen at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2013

Полигон is a false cognate in modern Russian. It means "firing range," never "polygon." The word for "polygon" is многоугольник, "many-angler."
posted by Nomyte at 9:24 AM on October 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

The Wikipedia article doesn't cite anything for that, so I don't know if it's true or not, but it sounds cool, anyway. The animation style is certainly interesting.

Yeah, my half-assed google doesn't turn up anything on it either. Maybe someone with more animation/optics knowledge will turn up.
posted by Think_Long at 9:37 AM on October 17, 2013

Searching for it in Russian doesn't turn up anything relevant either short of that same description in relation to this film.
posted by griphus at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2013

It seems more likely to me that it's a rotoscoping technique than a double layer of animation, at least for the people - their movement is too human like, with too many inefficiencies for a cartoon figure.
posted by Think_Long at 9:56 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like I've seen this somewhere before, maybe when I was looking up Soviet Animation. I think the version I saw didn't have an transcriptions, maybe, and so I had no clue what was going on.
posted by symbioid at 10:10 AM on October 17, 2013

I feel like I've seen this somewhere before, maybe when I was looking up Soviet Animation.

There was a previous post about Soviet Animation that had a link to this film.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2013

Sever Gansovsky wrote my favorite time travel story of all time, "Vincent Van Gogh", which I mentioned in a comment last month. Searching around for information about Gansovsky, I discovered the film. I eventually started the Wikipedia page about Gansovsky, too.

Also, the 'tank' seems more like a self-propelled gun, but I couldn't find an obvious model it's based on.
posted by jiawen at 11:49 AM on October 17, 2013

I'm super interested to know more about the animation technique as well. It definitely looks to be based on rotoscoping, but the shading and sense of depth are something I've never seen before, and I think it's really effective. It's too bad the video quality is too low to see it clearly. There was a lot of wonderful creative experimentation with technique in that period, with a lot of emphasis on painting and printing techniques derived from fine art, which sadly never really caught on elsewhere. Partly due to the intensity of labour required, and I suppose as well because of a perception that it can appear crude or inconsistent. But the capacity for conveying character and scene, and the effects that had on storytelling, are hard to find a match for.

It really was a golden age, and it's tragic that so much of it has disappeared from Youtube after moves from a Russian publisher; it's pretty much gutted the journal of Niffiwan, who posted so much incredible stuff. If you have any interest in the subject, he wrote a lot about the making of them in his posts, even if a lot of the videos are now broken.
posted by Drexen at 11:51 AM on October 17, 2013

The effect seems to be a simpler version of Disney's Multiplane Camera.
posted by basicchannel at 1:51 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

How the hell did that get made, is my question. I don't mean the animation technique, I mean a Soviet movie about killing Soviet generals, in 1977.
posted by echo target at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait, what? How did you even get that impression? This cartoon fits perfectly into contemporary Soviet public discourse. There is almost nothing transgressive about it.

First, the generals represent western world powers. Hence the tropical setting, the black-skinned natives, and the talk of lost colonies. Anyone even passingly familiar with Soviet popular culture will recognize "unnamed western power" as a common trope in popular Soviet fiction. It's a convenient setting: you can have both heroes and villains in a morally compromised world where one can only rely on his internal moral compass. By comparison, if you set your story on Soviet soil, your villains can only be solitary bad apples. A story about unpunished corruption on a large scale in a Soviet country would have been extremely problematic, by comparison. That the system is good was a sacred cow in mainstream Soviet fiction. That said, there are definitely some sacred cows in modern mainstream fiction in the US too: storylines that aren't literally verboten, but that are thematically unpalatable and in poor taste.

Second, anti-war messages were absolutely in line with contemporary Soviet public discourse. Soviet public discourse was naively idealistic to a fault. Again, this should be obvious to anyone passingly familiar with late Soviet popular culture. This thematic simplicity is especially noticeable in science fiction (which this cartoon is a very typical example of). If you look at Soviet science fiction of any vintage, you will see that it is full of Utopian narratives about the collective triumph of technology and civilization. Soviet cyberpunk and Soviet dystopia are almost inconceivable: Soviet sci-fi is invariably about the brighter, happier, more peaceful world of tomorrow. Then again, science fiction as an international modern phenomenon tends toward simple, idealistic themes, although SF in the US has sometimes tended towards naively fascist, militaristic themes.
posted by Nomyte at 12:41 AM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

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