Born in London in 1914, Freeborn was the son of a Lloyds of London insurance broker. He told a BBC documentary last year that he resisted pressure to follow in his father's footsteps, because "I felt I was different."
After air force service during World War II, he worked on British cinema classics including "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and David Lean's 1948 version of "Oliver Twist." His transformation of Alec Guinness into Fagin —complete with a large hooked nose — was criticized by some as anti-Semitic, a matter of regret for Freeborn, who said he was partly Jewish.
Freeborn later worked with Kubrick, transforming Peter Sellers into multiple characters for "Doctor Strangelove" before designing the apes for "2001'''s "Dawn of Man" sequence, in which primates react to a mysterious monolith.