ASIFA Magazine – Fred Mogubgub, part four. Make A Wish, American Pie

From 1971 to 1976 he worked with Al Brodax as animation producer for the ABC Sunday morning show “Make A Wish”. Songwriter Tom Chapin hosted. Each episode was a montage on a theme like “flying” or “bulls”. Mogubgub hired young animators, many still in school, to create animation.

At the end of the first season of “Make A Wish”, he made his last short film, American Pie. There are at least two versions of this film. The earlier version one shot of man riding a motorcycle. Mogubgub animated directly on the negative around him. The last version is a masterful reading of Don McLean’s song incorporating the man on the motorcycle, some original animation, and bits from “Make A Wish”. This screened as a short in the New York Film Festival.

Still from “American Pie”

Sick of commercial work in the late 1970s, Mogubgub focused on painting. At first glance his painting couldn’t appear more removed from his films. the films are frenetic and seemingly scattered, whereas the paintings are detailed and painstakingly rendered. “Virginia’s Garden” was a 25 x 30 foot canvas covered with fruits and vegetables, portraits and buildings. With all the multilayering and detail the artist can barely fit everything. If each frame of Enter Hamlet were put on a wall, what emerges might look an awful lot like “Virginia’s Garden” -a sprawling interpretation of the world, struggling to fit within the confines of a single piece of art.

His painting jumped from portraiture to abstraction and back. He created a series of “Spirit” paintings. The otherworldly portraits are interpretations of nighttime spectral manifestations. He experienced visitations. Once he met 18th Century Christian mystic Immanuel Swedenborg in a phone booth outside Grand Central Station. This was one of several encounters with the cosmic theorist.

In the 80s he continued painting while freelancing as an animator. He animated several commercials for his old friend Vincent Caffarelli at Buzzco including spots for cigars and “Bit O Honey”.

Still from R. O. Blechman’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”

His last film collaboration was with R. O. Blechman on The Ink Tank’s production of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Mogubgub’s sequences are pure magic. His animation moves from shapes exploding in space to dramatic silhouettes and multiscreen sequences. The contraposition of his raw graphic fantasies with the powerful character animation of Ed Smith, Tony Eastman and Tissa David helped the film win the first ever Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation.

Upon completion of his work on L’Histoire du Soldat, Mogubgub again concentrated on painting. His painting began to take the form of the geometric abstractions he created for the Stravinsky film. He spoke of shapes spinning into infinity as though geometry and motion were twin forces keeping the universe whole.

He died in his home in Cliffside Park, NJ on March 9, 1989. He was taken by bone cancer at 61

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  • Michael Sporn

    I remember Bob having to rush out an animatic to try to sell the film to PBS. He wanted as much footage as he could get. Fred and I had a sequnce of his (storyboard) shot on hi contrast film – only blacks and whites. He, then, started on one side of the actual film coloring with markers and paint. I started on the other, and we met in the middle. The wild colors and color anmiation hand painted on the film never was matched in the final film. It was a loss, to my eye.

  • roconnor

    That's a great story.

    Bob had told me that Mogubgub's sequences needed a lot of work to put together (though it sounds like that one would've been relatively easy). They required so much work that his assistant filed to be credited as an animator. Bob's argument, which ultimately prevailed, was to effect of "Look at the work, no one else could've created this animation. Assembling it is a mechanical task."

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