Makeup Artist Who Created Yoda Dies; Stuart Freeborn Was 98

Feb 7, 2013
Originally published on February 7, 2013 4:28 pm

The makeup artist who gave Star Wars' Yoda and Chewbacca their out-of-this-world looks, and helped bring to life other memorable characters such as the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died.

Stuart Freeborn was 98. According to The Associated Press, his granddaughter Michelle Freeborn "said he died Tuesday in London from a combination of ailments due to his age."

NBC's Today Show writes that:

"Freeborn may be best known to modern film fans as the man behind many of "Star Wars'" most outstanding creature looks, but by the time he joined that franchise he was well known in Hollywood for his work transforming actors like Alec Guinness for 1948's Oliver Twist and Peter Sellars in 1965's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

"His career reached all the way back to the 1930s, when he began working with Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh; in the 1980s he worked on The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and the four Superman films starring Christopher Reeve."

His page starts with 1936's Rembrandt and lists his last work as "key makeup artist" on the 1990 TV movie Max and Helen.

Freeborn talked about his work in a documentary that was posted (in two parts) on YouTube four years ago:

-- Part 1

-- Part 2

Fast Company has a gallery of images about "the culture-defining work of Yoda-master, Stuart Freeborn."

In January 2012, we noted the passing of Bob Anderson, "arguably the most legendary of sword-fight trainers/choreographer." As we wrote, "he donned Darth Vader's mask and cape in some of the most famous fight scenes from the original Star Wars movies."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're going to take a moment now to remember a man who spent a lifetime using his hands to create some unforgettable faces. British makeup artist Stuart Freeborn died Tuesday in London. He was 98.

CORNISH: Freeborn's career spanned six decades and includes work on one classic film after another: "Oliver Twist," "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Stanley Kubrick's "Doctor Strangelove." And it was in the world of science fiction that Freeborn revolutionized movie makeup.


SIEGEL: Freeborn teamed up again with Kubrick on "2001: A Space Odyssey" and transformed a team of actors into remarkably convincing apes.

NICK MALEY: The Academy didn't even recognize it as makeup, so they wouldn't give him the Oscar that year. Arthur C. Clarke said it was because the apes were so realistic that nobody realized that they were suits.

SIEGEL: That's makeup artist Nick Maley who worked with Stuart Freeborn on a number of films, including the trilogy that would lead to his most famous creation.


FRANK OZ: (as the voice of Yoda) You must unlearn what you have learned.

MARK HAMILL: (as Luke Skywalker) All right. I'll give it a try.

OZ: (as the voice of Yoda) No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.

CORNISH: Stuart Freeborn helped design and create Yoda, the diminutive Jedi master of the "Star Wars" galaxy. Again, Nick Maley.

MALEY: When Yoda was originally drawn, he looked more like Jiminy Cricket than he did like the Yoda that you know.

CORNISH: Maley says it was Freeborn who aged Yoda, giving him the wizened look of a real life master of physics.

MALEY: He extended the upper lip so it was heavy like Albert Einstein's mustache. He gave him Einstein's hair. He had the ears and the top of the head from the original drawing and modeled in his own jaw line to complete that character.

SIEGEL: In a statement, "Star Wars" director George Lucas said of Stuart Freeborn: His artistry and craftsmanship will live on forever in the characters he created.


OZ: (as the voice of Yoda) Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall. That is the way of things. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.