Freeborn’s career as a makeup artist began in the 1930s and spanned six decades and over 75 films. He quickly began specializing in effects makeup in films like Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948).
Freeborn continued to work steadily through the ’40s and ’50s, and in the 1960’s he worked on two films for legendary director, Stanley Kubrick. It was his work in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964 which transformed the chameleon actor, Peter Sellers, into three different, distinct characters, including the titular German scientist. In 1968, Freeborn designed the ape makeup and prosthetics for the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
He hit real geek deism in the 1970s. He was the makeup supervisor for George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, creating the design and look of Han Solo’s furry co-pilot, Chewbacca, which he would repeat in the next two movies. For The Empire Strikes Back, Freeborn designed the Yoda puppet, which Frank Oz would man. Irvin Kershner, the director of Empire (above, applying makeup to Freeborn), recalled the puppet bearing more than a passing resemblance to its creator. For The Return of the Jedi, Freeborn completed the trilogy by designing the looks of the Ewoks and Jabba the Hutt.
Freeborn was also the makeup head for The Great Muppet Caper in 1981 as well as for all four Superman movies, the fourth of which marked his final feature film work. Truly, his contribution to modern science fiction cannot be overstated.
One of his final interviews was conducted in 2011 by Bob Keen:
Full obituary at The Guardian.