LONDON – Stuart Freeborn, a pioneering movie makeup artist behind creatures such as Yoda and Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” films, has died. He was 98.
LucasFilm confirmed Wednesday that Freeborn had died, “leaving a legacy of unforgettable contributions.”
“Star Wars” director George Lucas said in a statement that Freeborn was “already a makeup legend” when he started working on “Star Wars.”
“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.”
Freeborn’s granddaughter, Michelle Freeborn, said he died Tuesday in London from a combination of ailments due to his age.
Freeborn’s six-decade career led him to work on many classics, including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Born in London in 1914, Freeborn was the son of a Lloyds of London insurance broker. He told a BBC documentary last year that he resisted pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps, because “I felt I was different.”
He began his film career in the 1930s, working for Hungarian-born director Alexander Korda, and honing his makeup skills on stars including Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh.
After air force service during World War II, he worked on British cinema classics including David Lean’s 1948 version of “Oliver Twist.”
Freeborn later worked with Kubrick, transforming Peter Sellers into multiple characters for “Doctor Strangelove” before designing the apes for the “Dawn of Man” sequence in “2001,” in which primates react to a mysterious monolith.
But he will likely be best remembered for his work on “Star Wars” – creating characters such as the 7-foot-tall wookie Chewbacca and the slug-like Jabba the Hutt.
LucasFilm said that Irvin Kershner, who directed “The Empire Strikes Back,” 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 were also said to be partly inspired by Albert Einstein.