Star Wars make-up artist Stuart Freeborn dies aged 98

Yoda and Albert Einstein The make-up artist based the design of Yoda on scientist Albert Einstein

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Stuart Freeborn, the British make-up artist renowned for his contributions to 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Star Wars films, has died at the age of 98.

Largely self-taught, his six-decade career saw him create make-up and prosthetics for such cinematic legends as Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

One of his most famous creations was Yoda, the diminutive Jedi master first seen in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.

Freeborn based Yoda's look on Albert Einstein, as well as his own features.

Star Wars creator George Lucas paid tribute to Freeborn, saying he was "a makeup legend" before he began working with him.

"He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy. 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."

Born in 1914 in Leytonstone, east London, the young Freeborn resisted his insurance broker father's attempts to have him follow in his footsteps.

"I didn't want to spend my life in an office," he revealed in a BBC documentary broadcast last year. "I felt I was different."

Freeborn began his film career at the Denham studios in the 1930s, where he worked under the auspices of Alexander Korda.

"I never stopped from that moment," said the make-up artist, who soon found himself working with such leading stars of the day as Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh.

Car accident
A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey Freeborn did some of his most celebrated work for 2001's 'Dawn of Man' sequence

When war broke out in 1939, Freeborn temporarily gave up his fledgling career to train as a fighter pilot, only to almost lose his life to Asian flu and haemophilia.

The war years saw him work on the prosthetics used to transform Roger Livesey into a balding, pot-bellied blusterer in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Another notable success came in 1948 when he devised the make-up that Alec Guinness used to portray Fagin in David Lean's film of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.

With its large beaked nose, hooded eyelids and extravagant facial hair, the characterisation was accused by some of being an anti-Semitic caricature.

Freeborn continued working with Sir David, travelling with him to Sri Lanka for the filming of his 1957 war epic The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The shoot was a dramatic one for the make-up artist, who almost perished in a car accident that claimed the lives of his fellow passengers.

Freeborn went on to work with director Stanley Kubrick, designing the three different faces sported by Peter Sellers in Cold War satire Doctor Strangelove.

That led to him designing the apes seen in the Dawn of Man sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a laborious two-year process that at one stage saw comedian Ronnie Corbett participate in make-up tests.

The 1970s saw Freeborn make a vital contribution to the Star Wars universe, for which he helped create such enduring characters as Chewbacca, Jabba the Hutt and Yoda.

Freeborn's son Graham became a make-up artist in his own right, working alongside his father on the Star Wars and Superman films.

Nick Dudman, who worked with Freeborn on The Empire Strikes Back, remembered him as "a Renaissance man capable of doing absolutely anything".

"He was a Nutty Professor," he told the BBC News website. "He wanted to push boundaries and had the most inquiring mind I'd ever encountered."

Freeborn's death was confirmed by Nick Maley, a family friend who worked as his assistant in the 1970s.

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