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Makeup artist created Yoda, transformed Sellers in 'Strangelove'

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

LONDON — Stuart Freeborn, a pioneering movie makeup artist behind creatures such as Yoda and Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” films, has died at 98.

LucasFilm confirmed Wednesday that Freeborn passed away, “leaving a legacy of unforgettable contributions.”

“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,” he 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, said he died Tuesday in London from a combination of ailments due to his age. 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 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,” she said.

In his six-decade career, he worked on many classics, including Stanley Kubrick's “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

He worked with Kubrick in transforming Peter Sellers into multiple characters for “Doctor Strangelove” and designing the apes for the “Dawn of Man” sequence in “Space Odyssey.”

But he will likely be best remembered for “Star Wars” — creating characters such as 7-foot-tall wookie Chewbacca and slug-like Jabba the Hutt.

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.)

Freeborn recalled being approached by “this young fellow” named George Lucas, who told him, “I've written a script for a film called ‘Star Wars.' ”

“He was so genuine about it, I thought, well, young as he is, I believe in him. He's got something. I'll do what I can for him,” Freeborn told the BBC.

Nick Maley, who worked with Freeborn in the 1970s, said, “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.”

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