We here at Giant Freakin’ Robot are saddened to report the passing of legendary cinematic makeup artist Stuart Freeborn. Though you may not recognize his name right away, you’ve seen his creations all over this site on a regular basis, and you’ll recognize much of his work that we don’t cover.
The Associated Press reports that Freeborn died Tuesday, February 6th, from a combination of ailments due to his advanced age of 98 years. He is survived by granddaughter Michelle Freeborn, who said her grandfather was “like a hero” to her, and got her and her late father, Graham, into the makeup business. Fans will know Graham’s work from the sci-fi/horror movie Lifeforce.
Stuart Freeborn’s career began in the 1930s, but his work reached massive levels of popularity due to his work in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, and on the ape designs for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Incidentally, he also worked on The Great Muppet Caper, a classic by any stretch of the imagination, as well as Superman and The Omen. His work has been everywhere.
His most famous and treasured creations will forever be those created for George Lucas and the original Star Wars trilogy. He is the designer of Chewbacca, Jabba the Hutt, and Yoda, whose look was inspired by Albert Einstein, but who also bears more than a passing resemblance to Freeborn himself.
In a statement, George Lucas remembers Freeborn fondly, calling him “already a makeup legend” before his work on Star Wars began. “He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy,” says Lucas. “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.”
For once, a piece of Star Wars news where we can all share the same opinion. Though he hadn’t been active in the industry for over 20 years, the artistry he accomplished during his illustrious career will be enjoyed forever. Stuart Freeborn, thank you we do.