“STAR WARS” CREATURE CREATOR PASSES INTO THE FORCE
The creative genius behind the aliens in George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy, passed away Tuesday in London at the age of 98, from complications related to his age. While a diminutive man in person, Stuart Freeborn was a giant in his field. From classic film makeup for the likes of Marlena Deitrich to character makeup such as Peter Sellers’ in Stanley Kubrick‘s “Dr. Strangelove”, to full scale creature creations, he pioneered it all. His creatures ran the gamut from full-body suits for the man-apes in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” to giant puppets like Jabba the Hutt in “Star Wars.”
Last season, one of the challenges on SyFy’s “FaceOff” was to create a creature that would fit into the Mos Eisley cantina scene. The winners of the challenge would have their creation pictured on the official starwars.com website. The creatures developed by the various teams were pretty amazing – I just wish they’d gotten Stuart to be a judge!
“Star Wars” director George Lucas said in a statement that Freeborn was “already a makeup legend” when he started working on “Star Wars.”
“He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy,” Lucas said. “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.”
Freeborn’s granddaughter, Michelle Freeborn, who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, said her grandfather was “like a hero” to her and inspired her and her late father to get into the movie business, too.
“He was a really fun and imaginative individual. He gave you the feeling that if you wanted to achieve something, you should just get on and do it, and don’t ever use excuses. He enjoyed life and the amazing world we live in.”
Born in London in 1914, Freeborn was the son of a Lloyds of London insurance broker, who was somewhat disappointed when his son chose to follow a different path. He began his film career in the 1930s, working for Hungarian-born director Alexander Korda, and with stars including Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh.
After air force service during World War II, he worked on British classics including “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and David Lean’s 1948 version of “Oliver Twist, transforming a young Alec Guinness into the evil Fagin. For a look at that amazing process, through a series of 10 photos, click here.
Freeborn later worked with Stanley Kubrick, transforming Peter Sellers into multiple characters for “Doctor Strangelove” before designing the apes for “2001″‘s “Dawn of Man” sequence. But he will probably be best remembered for his creature creations for the first “Star Wars” trilogy. From Jabba the Hutt (a puppet that took three people inside to operate) to the 7′ tall Chewbacca to the Ewoks and his personal favorite, Yoda.
LucasFilm said that Irvin Kershner, who directed “The Empire Strikes Back,” would “note that Freeborn quite literally put himself into Yoda, as the Jedi master’s inquisitive and mischievous elfin features had more than a passing resemblance to Freeborn himself.” (Yoda’s looks were also said to be partly inspired by Albert Einstein.)
Nick Maley, a makeup artist who worked with Freeborn in the 1970s, called him a mentor who “ran his department like a headmaster.”
“It was my years working with him that helped me learn how to think, how to solve problems, how to not take the most obvious path. Everybody will remember him for ‘Star Wars,’ but he did so much more than that. No one should overlook the groundbreaking work he did on ’2001: A Space Odyssey.’ That was really the forerunner of ‘Star Wars’ and used a lot of the same technology.”
For a look at a wonderous photo montage of Freeborn’s work, click here.
Freeborn’s wife, Kay, died in 2012. His three sons — Roger, Ray and Graham — also predeceased him. In addition to Michelle, Freeborn is survived by seven grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.