CNN is reporting that Stuart Freeborn, the legendary movie creature effects artist who brought Yoda, Chewbacca, the Ewoks and countless other Star Wars aliens to life, died yesterday at the age of 98.
As you can see from the picture above, he used himself as the model for Yoda's face. Additionally, Freeborn and his team also worked on Jabba the Hutt, the Tauntauns, Greedo, and several other cantina aliens and denizens of Jabba the Hutt's palace. But it wasn't just Star Wars that Freeborn put his stamp on: he also worked on The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Omen, Dr. Strangelove, The Great Muppet Caper, all four Superman films and more. He also worked on the apes in the first part of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
George Lucas made this statement:
"Stuart was already a makeup legend when he started on 'Star Wars. 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."
Freeborn's work speaks for itself, especially when you compare his original trilogy creations to the CG creatures of the prequels — Freeborn's aliens weren't just special effects, they were real, living, breathing characters. Given today's reliance on CG for all special effects, it is unlikely we'll ever see someone of Freeborn's talents again.