Stuart Freeborn, the legendary British makeup artist who worked on films for Stanley Kubrick and David Lean and created such creatures as Yoda and Chewbacca for the Star Wars films, died Tuesday in London. He was 98.
Freeborn transformed Alec Guinness into Fagin for Lean's 1948 version of Oliver Twist and aged Roger Livesay through the decades in another British film classic, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).
His other makeup credits include Powell’s The Thief of Bagdad (1940), Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), It Takes a Thief (1960), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975), The Omen (1976), The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and the four Superman films starring Christopher Reeve.
For Kubrick, he turned Peter Sellers into three characters in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and designed the apes for the “Dawn of Man” sequence, in which primates react to a mysterious monolith, for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The London native began his film career in the 1930s, working for Hungarian director Alexander Korda and honing his skills on such stars as Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh.
However, he will best be remembered for his work on Star Wars, creating characters such as the 7-foot-tall wookie Chewbacca and the slug-like alien Jabba the Hutt.
Star Wars director George Lucas, who recently sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion, said in a statement Wednesday that Freeborn was “already a makeup legend” when he started working for him.
“He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy,” Lucas said. “His artistry and craftsmanship will live on forever in the characters he created. His Star Wars creatures may be reinterpreted in new forms by new generations, but at their heart, they continue to be what Stuart created for the original films.”
Lucasfilm said that Irvin Kershner, who directed The Empire Strikes Back (1980), would “note that Freeborn quite literally put himself into Yoda, as the Jedi master's inquisitive and mischievous elfin features had more than a passing resemblance to Freeborn himself.”
Yoda’s looks also were said to be inspired by Albert Einstein.
Nick Maley, a makeup artist who worked with Freeborn in the 1970s, called him a mentor who “ran his department like a headmaster.”
“Everybody will remember him for Star Wars, but he did so much more than that,” Maley told the Associated Press. “No one should overlook the groundbreaking work he did on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was really the forerunner of Star Wars and used a lot of the same technology.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.