Obituary: Stuart Freeborn / Makeup artist shaped iconic space creatures in 'Star Wars' films
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Stuart Freeborn, a movie makeup artist whose alchemy helped shape the outlandish space creatures that stalk the "Star Wars" films -- including the big-eared, big-brained little Yoda, whom he modeled after himself and Albert Einstein -- died Feb. 5 in London. He was 98.
George Lucas, the "Star Wars" director, announced his death, calling him "a makeup legend."
Mr. Freeborn worked on more than 75 movies, creating the makeup for stars like Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Vivien Leigh and Gregory Peck. He created the looks of the three characters -- Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake of the Royal Air Force, President Muffley and the paraplegic ex-Nazi Dr. Strangelove -- that Peter Sellers played in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black comedy, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."
Kubrick so liked the "Strangelove" work that he asked Mr. Freeborn to create the apelike hominids in "The Dawn of Man" sequence in the 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." The project, taking two years for Mr. Freeborn to complete, involved crafting masks with lips and tongues that moved, realistic-looking simian teeth and body suits made from human, yak and horsehair.
Mr. Lucas was so impressed with his "Space Odyssey" work that he asked Mr. Freeborn to handle makeup duties for "Star Wars." He accepted the job but not before questioning whether the movie would be a box-office success. (The "Star Wars" series has made more than $4 billion.) His inspiration for the look of Yoda, a puppet, came when he looked in the mirror and saw the lumps and bumps on his own face. To convey the mental power of this master of the Jedi Order, an ancient monastic peacekeeping organization in the "Star Wars" universe, he hit on the notion of using Einstein's eye wrinkles. Yoda's big ears popped out of Mr. Freeborn's imagination.
Mr. Freeborn also made Chewbacca, the furry 7-foot-3 co-pilot of the hero Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. (Peter Mayhew played Chewbacca.) He made Jabba the Hutt, a large, sluglike alien that required three puppeteers to operate, for the third film in the original series, "Return of the Jedi." To create the bizarre crowd of extraterrestrials who gathered at the "Star Wars" cantina, Mr. Freeborn recruited his wife, Kay, and son, Graham, both makeup artists, to help.
Kay Freeborn died last year. Freeborn's sons, Graham, Roger and Ray, also died before him.
Stuart Freeborn was born in London on Sept. 5, 1914. Even as a teenager, he yearned to work in the movie business and practiced making himself up to look like different characters. He studied chemistry to learn how to use different kinds of plastic without harming human skin.
Shrugging off his father's pleas that he follow him into the insurance business, Mr. Freeborn repeatedly applied to studios, sometimes even sneaking into them hoping to demonstrate his skills.
Undaunted by rejections, he sent photos of his work to director Alexander Korda, a leader in the British film industry. Korda hired him, and he was soon doing makeup for costume dramas and period pieces.
First Published February 15, 2013 12:00 am