Stephen Hillenburg, Teacher and Artist
By: Ruben Sibri
Stephen Hillenburg was an artist and an educator. He created Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” and acted as the showrunner for the first three seasons.
Hillenburg was also the director of the “SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”. Having intended for the movie to be the finale of the show, he exited as showrunner but remained a producer when Nickelodeon renewed it.
Hillenburg had a love for the ocean and it’s creatures. During his time teaching marine biology, he wrote a comic called “The Intertidal Zone”. The informative comic featured undersea creatures including one named “Bob the Sponge”. He wanted to teach kids about the undersea creatures who lived in that ecosystem.
Although he exited his career studying marine biology, his love for those critters extended into his second career, animation. Hillenburg studied at the California Institute of the Arts and later went to work for Nickelodeon.
Fast forward to 1994 and he’s developing his characters from “The Intertidal Zone” into what became “SpongeBob Squarepants”. The show debuted in 1999 and has been running strong for 19 years. “SpongeBob Squarepants” has been around for nearly a decade and has been part of numerous childhoods during its long run.
Hillenburg returned to a more hands on role for the second film, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” as a producer and story writer. His involvement also extended to the series after the movie.
In 2017, Hillenburg revealed that he had been diagnosed with ALS. He assured his fans that he would “continue to work on “SpongeBob” and his other passions for as long as he could”.
Earlier this year Hillenburg was presented with an award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented by Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. The award was for “his contribution and impact made in the animation field and within the broadcast industry.”
Stephen Hillenburg passed away on November 26, 2018. The legacy he left behind is unparalleled.
“Spongebob” has amassed a worldwide audience during its 242 episodes. The show embodies quirky yet relatable characters that are beloved by many fans all around the world, making it a common household name.
The world mourns this man’s death. He was more than just an animator, but an educator. “Hillenburg was someone who across two decades showed us that it’s okay to be innocent, well meaning oddballs”.
Stephen Hillenburg was a soft spoken and private man. But nonetheless everyone spoke of him with respect and grace.
Hillenburg embraced the joy and wonder of working in an office space with creative and brilliant people. A sign on his office door read “Have fun or you’re fired”, and although it was a joke, it embodied his m.o.
Hillenburg was someone who had fun and loved what he did. He took two of his lives passions and was able to not only turn them into careers but, into a dream.
“There is something comforting in knowing that you could make something that maybe is shown in another country, in another language and that they find it funny too and that maybe we all do have something in common, I think that the thing I enjoy about it most”, said Hillenburg in an interview for the 2009 documentary “Square Roots: The Story of Spongebob Squarepants”.
Mr. Hillenburg didn’t intend on making a cultural phenomenon, a show loved by people of all ages all around the world. What he did was follow his passions and make the most of them.
Although he’s gone now, that spirit and poise will continue to teach and inspire children adults and undersea critters all alike.
Source: Square Roots: The Story of Spongebob Squarepants