Feb. 7, 2013 at 8:17 AM ET
Makeup and creature effects veteran Stuart Freeborn, who fashioned classic characters ranging from "Star Wars'" Yoda and Chewbacca to the "Dawn of Man" apes in "2001: A Space Odyssey," died in London at 98, LucasFilm said Wednesday.
Freeborn may be best known to modern film fans as the man behind many of "Star Wars'" most outstanding creature looks, but by the time he joined that franchise he was well known in Hollywood for his work transforming actors like Alec Guinness for 1948's "Oliver Twist" and Peter Sellars in 1965's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."
His career reached all the way back to the 1930s, when he began working with Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh; in the 1980s he worked on "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981) and the four "Superman" films starring Christopher Reeve. His last official film credit, according to the IMDB, was in 1990 for "Max and Helen."
"He brought with him not only decades of experience, but boundless creative energy," George Lucas said in a statement on the StarWars.com site. "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."
In a BBC documentary from 2012, ITV reports he spoke about being approached by "this young fellow" named George Lucas, who told him about "Star Wars."
Freeborn became one of the franchise's secret weapons, and wasn't afraid to really get into his work: "Empire Strikes Back" director Irvin Kershner, said the StarWars.com site, "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." (He also reportedly based the look in part on Albert Einstein.)
Freeborn's wife Kay, who worked with him at times, died last year, and his son passed on in 1996. His granddaughter Michelle Freeborn informed ITV that he had died of age-related illnesses, adding, "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."