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FTN Pays tribute to Stuart Freeborn

February 6th, 2013 by Irwin Fletcher Comments

Stuart Freeborn, award winning make-up artist and creature creator for films has sadly died at the age of 98. Best known for his work on the Star Wars Trilogy, Stuart was a truly gifted innovator of make-up effects for the motion picture industry.

His talent first came to light and astounded (and in some circles enraged) audiences with his creation for make-up for Alec Guinness in the 1948 Oliver Twist. He transferred the virile Alec into the much older and less scrupulous character of Fagan by adding wispy facial hair, a crocked nose and bags under the eyes. This transformation and characterisation is still widely regarded by critics as the best film version of Oliver Twist.

Though he worked on many classic movies such as The Dam Busters, Bridge on the River Kwai, Kidnapped and Dr Strangelove, in which he created three visually different looks for the three characters played by Peter Sellers, it will be his work in science fiction that he will be remembered for.

In 1968, he once again teamed up with Stanley Kubrick to bring the much anticipated and incredibly visual 2001: A Space Odyssey to the big screen. He created the look, texture and feel of the primates in the opening sequence. This opening sequence is still fondly remembered even today for the inquisitive yet terrifying primates who encounter a Monolith. Though this was not the only the monkey film to be released that year, Planet of the Apes was also on the big screen and there has been many pub discussions about which was the most stunning, with 2001 usually winning.

Incidentally, it has been widely remarked that Stuart Freeborn was ‘robbed’, so to speak, of the Academy Award for Make-up for 2001 in that it went to Planet of the Apes due to critics and the general public mistaking Stuart Freeborn’s primate creations for the real thing! This is in fact an urban myth as the Academy didn’t create an award for make-up until the 1980s!

Staying with science fiction, Stuart worked on a little known film in 1975 called Star Wars where he created Chewbacca. Dubbed by the cast and crew as “The Dog”, Chewie is held in very high esteem by fans young and old as the ultimate sidekick for hopping galaxies.

Made with horse and yak hair, the character Chewbacca also incorporates heavy eye make-up and prosthetic mouth and teeth for his face, as well as claws (though these are rarely seen on screen as his hair covers them.)

With the success of Star Wars, Stuart also worked on make-up for Superman before returning with probably the greatest character the galaxy has ever known.

In 1979, working on The Empire Strikes Back, Stuart brought to life “The Troll” from pictures provided by Ralph McQuarrie, a back story created by George Lucas and the creative puppet talents of Phil Tippet and Frank Oz. His creation was Yoda, the Jedi Master.

This visually appealing to all ages character was inspired by several notable geniuses. Mainly Albert Einstein, who gave Yoda his “eyes”, kind, friendly and inquisitive. Stuart himself gave Yoda his hair loss and wrinkles!

Stuart also worked on the finale of Return of the Jedi by providing make-up to two of the galaxy’s most vilest creations, Jabba the Hutt and The Emperor! Both are completely different in contrast yet the work and skill in each of the appearances is a true credit of the skill and ingenuity that was Stuart’s.

For his visually stunning creations and work in both Science Fiction and non- Science Fiction (and for helping to create Yoda, Chewie and many other Star Wars Characters), we at FTN pay tribute to the work and creativity of Stuart Freeborn.

Stuart Freeborn 1914-2013, may you rest in peace.

Big Phil 

I'm an LA journalist who really lives for his profession. I have also published work as Jane Doe in various mags and newspapers across the globe. I normally write articles that can cause trouble but now I write for FTN because Nerds are never angry, so I feel safe.