Obit of the Day: Creator of Yoda
For The Empire Strikes Back, makeup artist Stuart Freeborn had to create the wizened Jedi mentor, Yoda. Using a puppet rather than a human actor to create the diminutive character, Freeborn had to decide how Yoda would look after nearly 700 fictional years. So he combined the facial characteristics of two people into the puppet’s final design: Albert Einstein and his own. (You can see clearly, above, the close relationship between Mr. Freeborn and his creation.)
Stuart Freeborn began his career in films nearly 80 years ago at England’s Denham Studios. He was looking for a way to get out from under the his father’s ambition for young Stuart to become an insurance broker. He found it in the makeup chair.
Going uncredited for the first several years of his career, Mr. Freeborn first gained notice for his work when he transformed Alec Guinness into Fagin for the 1948 film Oliver Twist. One reason for the notice was based on criticism that Mr. Freeborn made Fagin into a Jewish stereotype with a prominently hooked nose.
Mr. Freeborn would work on a total of 76 films during his career that spanned seven decades. He would become a favorite of director Stanley Kubrick who had Mr. Freeman create three distinct characters for Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and the very human apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Freeborn was approached by George Lucas who introduced himself and said, “I’ve written a script for a film called Star Wars.” Mr. Freeborn thought that the young director was so genuine that he would offer to help.
Stuart Freeborn died on February 6, 2013 at the age of 98.
(Image of Stuart Freeborn and Yoda is courtesy of thefullwiki.org)
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