‘Star Wars’: Stuart Freeborn, the makeup artist behind Yoda, dies

Feb. 07, 2013 | 1:47 p.m.
Stuart Freeborn sculpts the Yoda puppet. (Lucasfilm / Los Angeles Times Archives)

Stuart Freeborn sculpts the Yoda puppet. (Lucasfilm / Los Angeles Times Archives)

Legendary Hollywood makeup man Stuart Freeborn, who created some of the most memorable characters ever in science fiction including Yoda in the “Star Wars” films and the ape men of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has died at the age of 98.

Freeborn’s daughter, Michelle, told the Associated Press that the legendary makeup man died in London from a combination of ailments due to his age.

Stuart Freeborn (Michelle Freeborn / Associated Press)

Stuart Freeborn (Michelle Freeborn / Associated Press)

In a statement, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas said, “Stuart was already a makeup legend when he started on ‘Star Wars.’ He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy. 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.”

MORE: Yoda puppeteer Frank Oz remembers Stuart Freeborn

Freeborn, who was a London native, began his career as a makeup artist for director Alexander Korda on the 1936 film “Rembrandt.”

He briefly left the film industry to serve in England’s air force during World War II, then returned to work on such films as David Lean’s “Oliver Twist” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Freeborn worked with Kubrick on two films, “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001.” For the latter film, he created the ultra-realistic makeup for the prehistoric ape men seen in the film’s opening scenes.

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But Freeborn’s most famous works, by far, are the alien creatures he created for George Lucas’ “Star Wars” films. Freeborn worked on all three of the original films, creating aliens for the Mos Eisley Cantina sequence, the Chewbacca makeup, the giant Jabba the Hutt puppet and the Yoda puppet.

The Yoda puppet used in "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi." (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

The Yoda puppet used in “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

In a mini-documentary filmed in 1997, the retired Freeborn visited the creature shop for “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and was presented a bronze statue of Yoda from the make-up artists walking in his footsteps.

He revealed that he had attempted to evoke Albert Einstein when designing the wizened Jedi master’s eyes. However, some resemblance to Freeborn’s own looks were noted.

Freeborn also created the makeup for the first four “Superman” movies, “The Omen” and the Gene Wilder-Gilda Radner comedy “Haunted Honeymoon” (which means he put Dom DeLuise in drag).

Freeborn’s final film credit was in 1990 for the TV movie “Max and Helen.”

— Patrick Kevin Day

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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3 Responses to ‘Star Wars’: Stuart Freeborn, the makeup artist behind Yoda, dies

  1. Stuart says:

    Stuart Freeborn is a magician who set the bar high in his craft. I think he looked a little like his character design for Master Yoda. This genius will be missed, but thankfully his amazing talents will be revered for many generations to come. Thank you Mr. Freeborn.

  2. stuart says:

    also, his work was missed on the last 3 instalments of Star Wars, his craft can't be replaced by CGi

  3. j.p says:

    what was he suppose to be in the beginning

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