In memoriam: makeup artist Stuart Freeborn

News Ryan Lambie
6 Feb 2013 - 19:03

We're sad to learn that British makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, whose work included Star Wars and 2001, has passed away at the age of 98.

Yoda is surely among the most recognisable and loved characters in sci-fi cinema, and it says so much about the enduring fan affection for the old sage that, more than 30 years after he first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back, there are rumours that he may soon appear in his own Star Wars spin-off movie.

How sad, then, to hear that Stuart Freeborn, the makeup designer who created Yoda's distinctive green features, has passed away at the age of 98.

The credits in Freeborn's long career include The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, David Lean's Oliver Twist and The Bridge Over The River Kwai. He was responsible for the makeup effects in Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, which transformed Peter Sellers into an effete British army captain, an equally ineffectual American President, and the sinister gloved former Nazi of the title.

He produced some groundbreaking work for Kubrick's next film, the seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey - his makeup effects for the Dawn of Man's knuckle-dragging hominids were nothing short of remarkable, and paved the way for Freeborn's later sci-fi work.

After A Space Odyssey, Freeborn worked on the flying head of David Warner for Richard Donner's The Omen, before creating the look of Chewbacca for Star Wars. When Freeborn returned to the Star Wars universe a few years later to create Yoda, he famously based the character on the likeness of both Albert Einstein and himself. The combination of Freeborn's design and Frank Oz's puppeteering and voice acting created an unforgettable character whose popularity has spread far beyond the Star Wars movies themselves.

Freeborn leaves behind a truly remarkable body of work, and his creations are still enjoyed by audiences everywhere. As fellow artist Nick Maley wrote in his extensive and fascinating account of Freeborn's career, "he has left a huge pair of shoes that will be very hard to fill."


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