If you were looking for the article about the storyboard artist, then see Stephen Herczeg.
If you were looking for the article about the comic book artist, then see Stephen DeStefano.

Stephen McDannell Hillenburg[1] (August 21, 1961 - November 26, 2018; aged 57) was an American teacher of marine science, artist, and the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. He developed the idea for the series while working at the Ocean Institute in California.

The character of SpongeBob was based on an educational book he had illustrated called The Intertidal Zone, and the character of Pearl was inspired by his time as a supervisor of whale watches at the Ocean Institute.[2][3] He named Karen Plankton after his wife, Karen Hillenburg.[4]

He was the showrunner from 1999 until 2004, when the first movie was completed. He continued to be credited as the executive producer for seasons four to twelve, but his role was much less involved; he received this credit for every episode, regardless of whether or not he contributed at all, making it a "vanity credit" rather than an actual one.[5] According to Vincent Waller, Hillenburg did not do any drawing, directing, or writing whatsoever after the first movie; his only job was "being Steve."[5]

Other than behind-the-scenes work, he was the original voice of Potty the Parrot before the role was passed onto Paul Tibbitt and eventually Mr. Lawrence. Tibbitt succeeded Hillenburg as the showrunner for seasons four to nine.

Hillenburg was a strong and firm proponent of "cute, stiff, on-model" animation for the characters. He was well known for being adamant about his visions for the show and for never changing his mind; he was even known to stay at the studio "late every night, going over all the storyboards, making sure SpongeBob was cute in every panel."[6] However, as his health deteriorated, the show's new crew from season 10 onward was able to get him to "loosen up" on a few of his former rules for the show. Mainly, they changed the animation from "on-model" to extremely off-model in the vein of Ren & Stimpy, which many of the new crew members had worked on.[7][8]

It was announced he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) on March 13, 2017.[9] His deteriorating health made it difficult for him to speak or offer input on the series. However, he continued to occasionally visit Nickelodeon Animation Studio to check on progress.

Hillenburg passed away on November 26, 2018, due to complications linked to ALS.


In 1984, Stephen Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University with a bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on Marine Resources. He became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute--now known as the Ocean Institute--in Dana Point, California. Hillenburg's love for the sea and its creatures inspired him to create teaching tools for his students with characters that would later become the main characters of SpongeBob SquarePants.[10]

In 1987, Stephen Hillenburg pursued a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and earned his Master of Fine Arts in 1992. Also during the same year, he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short "Wormholes," which was shown at several international animation festivals. From 1993 to 1996, he worked on the Nickelodeon animated series Rocko's Modern Life; during this time, he continued to fine-tune the aquatic series concept that he had begun in the 1980s. It would eventually be pitched to Nickelodeon as SpongeBoy Ahoy! and subsequently renamed SpongeBob SquarePants.[10]

In 2007, a frivolous lawsuit, claiming that a toy inventor named Troy Walker came up with the SpongeBob concept, was filed against Nickelodeon and Hillenburg by a plaintiff wanting a "ridiculous" total of $1.6 billion from Nickelodeon. The claimant, Troy Walker, did not do enough research on his claims before making them, setting his implausible story in 1991, years after Hillenburg had started work on his concept. A summary judgment quickly ruled in Viacom's favor over the flimsy claims.

In March 2017, Hillenburg revealed that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terminal illness that affects and causes the death of neurons that control the brain and the spinal cord. He tried to work on the series as best as he could from then on.

On November 26, 2018, Hillenburg passed away from ALS-related complications. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered across the coast of California, close to where Bikini Bottom resides.[11][12] The future of the show is currently in doubt, though Vincent Waller has stated that the show would still continue.[13]


SpongeBob's Start

Example of Stephen Hillenburg being referred to as "Steve Hillenburg."

  • Sometimes, he is referred to as "Steven or Steve Hillenburg."
  • Stephen Hillenburg drew inspiration from his own life while designing the main characters. Mr. Krabs was based on Hillenburg's former manager at a sea-themed restaurant. Pearl was inspired by his regular supervision of whale watches while working as a marine science educator. SpongeBob's design was influenced by Hillenburg's appearance as a young child, with "nerdy gapped teeth."[14][15]
  • Following the release of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004, Stephen Hillenburg left the series, because he wanted it to end. However, Hillenburg did not leave the series entirely; he still served as an executive producer during his lifetime.[16]
  • On May 25, 2012, it was announced that Stephen Hillenburg would be working on The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.
SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout 800

A posthumous mention.

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Another posthumous mention.

  • Vincent Waller has confirmed on Twitter that Stephen Hillenburg was alive during the storyboard and writing phases of the episode "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout." However, he did not contribute to the episode's boarding or script.[17]
    • Additionally, a thank you and in memory of message for Stephen Hillenburg appears in the endings of "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run as a dedication to him.
  • According to Vincent Waller, he was about 5 feet, 8 inches tall.[18]
  • According to Everybody's Talking: The Voices Behind SpongeBob SquarePants, while Tom Kenny was practicing the voice of SpongeBob, Stephen Hillenburg read several of Squidward's lines since his voice actor (Rodger Bumpass) had not been cast yet.[19]
  • When the Bikini Atoll island is shown at night, a human finger is visible in the water to portray a reflection of the moon. According to the "Christmas Who?" audio commentary, Stephen Hillenburg filmed the Bikini Atoll island at Steve Belfer's house in his friend's pool in California.[20]
  • During the start of SpongeBob, he made several rules and restrictions for the series.
    • SpongeBob should never get his driver's license, no matter what he does. This is because Hillenburg loved the dynamic between SpongeBob and Mrs. Puff, so SpongeBob getting his license would end it. Another reason is that it saved the show from being butchered by Nickelodeon executives who wanted to turn SpongeBob into a kid. 
    • No revealing the identity of Pearl's mother or the Krabby Patty Formula and keep them a secret throughout the series.[21]
    • SpongeBob should not have a romantic interest, so he made him able to reproduce asexually like real sea sponges.
    • According to Vincent Waller on Twitter,[22] Stephen Hillenburg himself said he hated the idea of SpongeBob having a crossover episode with another cartoon. This is because he believed that crossovers would not work out, due to the series taking place underwater and SpongeBob would be considerably smaller compared to other cartoon characters, as he is only four inches tall.[23][24] The only episode of another Nickelodeon show featuring a SpongeBob character is "Big Time Beach Party" from Big Time Rush, which features Patchy the Pirate. Since Big Time Rush is a live-action sitcom and Patchy is a live-action character, there has still never been an official SpongeBob crossover episode with another Nick show outside of video games and promos. 
    • It is also known that Stephen Hillenburg himself said he didn't see any potential spin-off series for SpongeBob before he passed away, which had been misconstrued as him hating the idea.[25] In fact, there have been petitions from fans trying to cancel these spin-off productions.[26] According to an interview with Paul Tibbitt: "Steve would always say to me, 'You know, one of these days, they’re going to want to make SpongeBob Babies. That's when I'm out of here.'"[27]
    • He also worried about the excessive merchandising of the show and the consequences it would have on the planet. In a New York Times interview here, Sherm Cohen recalled that Hillenburg told him: "My biggest nightmare is that I'm going to be at the beach one day, and one of these dolls is going to wash up on the shore like garbage." According to Cohen, "being a marine biologist who also surfs, Stephen doesn't want to be responsible for bringing a glut of garbage into the world."
    • In the same interview, he treated one of his old classmates with disdain after said classmate introduced him as the creator of SpongeBob, due to his resentment towards the show's popularity.
    • In some interviews, he recalled that when he first pitched SpongeBob, Nickelodeon executives said they would only greenlight the show if he made SpongeBob and the gang into children. He was about to quit Nickelodeon and give up on the show until he came up with a compromise (putting SpongeBob in a boat driving school so he could remain an adult-aged character).[28]
  • Stephen Hillenburg is the first creator of any Nickelodeon series to pass away.


Stephen Hilleburg error in Help Wanted

Should be written as "Stephen Hillenburg"

  • In "Help Wanted," Stephen Hillenburg's name is misspelled as "Stephen Hilleburg," missing the "N" in his surname.
Polish 20200217 073717976

Should be written as "Stephen Hillenburg"



Artwork by Hillenburg


SpongeBob SquarePants Meet the Creator Stephen Hillenburg Nickelodeon Animation Studio

SpongeBob SquarePants Meet the Creator Stephen Hillenburg Nickelodeon Animation Studio


  1. ^ Veromi: Stephen Hillenburg.
  2. ^ Makin' Toons: Inside Popular Animated TV Shows
  3. ^ Nickelodeon Magazine June 2003: From Boy to Bob
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Michelle Bryan: The Frederator Interview.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Reveals ALS Diagnosis (March 13, 2017).
  10. ^ a b ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dies at 57 (November 27, 2018).
  11. ^ SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg's ashes scattered at sea (8th December 2018).
  12. ^ Ashes of 'Spongebob Squarepants' creator spread at sea following ALS death (8th December 2018).
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Banks, Steven (September 21, 2004). SpongeBob Exposed! The Insider's Guide to SpongeBob SquarePants. Schigiel, Gregg.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Longreads: "The Young Man and the Sea Sponge"
  28. ^ White, Peter (2009-10-27). Spongebob Squarepants’ creator Steve Hillenburg. TBI Vision. Retrieved on 2019-07-15. TBI Vision interview
Wikipedia logo This page uses content from Wikipedia (originalauthors). Both Encyclopedia SpongeBobia and Wikipedia are licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported license.

Cast and Crew (VTE)

Main character voices
Tom KennyBill FagerbakkeRodger BumpassClancy BrownLori AlanCarolyn LawrenceMary Jo CatlettDoug LawrenceJill Talley

Supporting character voices
Stephen HillenburgPaul TibbittErnest BorgnineTim ConwayBrian Doyle-MurrayJohn O'HurleyMarion RossDee Bradley BakerSirena IrwinCarlos AlazraquiThomas F. WilsonBob JolesMark FiteSara PaxtonJohn GegenhuberGuest stars

Aaron HendryAdam DeKrakerAaron SpringerAdam FayAdam WestAdam PaloianAksu PalménAku LaitinenAlan CarrAlan SmartAndrea RomanoAndrew GoodmanAndrew OvertoomBlake LemonsBob CampBob JaquesBrad VandergriftBrian MoranteBrice MallierCaleb MeurerCarson KuglerCasey AlexanderCatherine SimmondsC.H. GreenblattCharlie BeanChris AllisonChris HeadrickChris MitchellChris ReccardiChuck KleinClare O'KaneClint Bond Jr.Cindy MorrowDave CunninghamDavid FainDani MichaeliDan PovenmireDaniel DominguezDerek DrymonDerek IversenDerek L'estrangeDoug LawrenceEban SchletterEdgar LarrazábalEduardo AcostaEnnio Torresan, Jr.Eric FilipkowskiEric ShawErik WieseFrank WeissFred MillerFred OsmondGarrett HoGreg MillerGregor F. NarholzHeather MartinezHelen KalafaticHowie PerryIan GrahamIIya SkorupskyJack PendarvisJanice TolentinoJay LenderJan StrnadJennie MonicaJim SchumannJoe LissJoe WierengaJohnathan SturgessJohn MagnessJohn TrabbicJosh AndroskyKaren HeathwoodKazKelly ArmstrongKent OsborneKris WimberlyKurt SnyderKyle McCullochLarry LeFrancisLarry LeichliterLeonard RobinsonLloyd AhlquistLolee AriesLuke BrookshierLynne NaylorMarc CeccarelliMarcelo SouzaMarco CinelloMark CaballeroMark O'HareMark ZoellerMaureen MascarinaMerriwether WilliamsMike BellMike FasoloMike MitchellMike RothMonica DavilaMonica TomovaNate CashNick CrossNick JenningsNicolas CarrOctavio RodriguezPaul TibbittPeter BennettPeter BurnsPeter ShukoffPhilip HarrisRichard PurselRobertryan CoryRob RosenRobert DressRyan KhatamRyan KramerSam HendersonSolomon GeorgioSeamus WalshSaeid ZameniateniSean CharmatzSean DempseyShannon ReedSherm CohenShellie O'BrienStephen HerczegStephen HillenburgSteve FontiSteven BanksThaddeus Paul CouldronTim HillTim ParsonsTeale Reon WangTed SekoTodd WhiteTom KingTom YasumiTony CraigTuck TuckerVincent WallerLynn WangVirginia HawesWalt DohrnWill FinnWilliam ReissWolf-Rüdiger BlossZeus Cervas

Awards and nominations for SpongeBob SquarePants (VE)

Emmy Awards Cup Emmy

Daytime Emmy Awards

Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program

Directors: Andrew Overtoom, Andrea Romano, Alan Smart and Tom Yasumi (2010)Casey Alexander, Luke Brookshier, Nate Cash, Zeus Cervas, Sean Charmatz, Andrew Overtoom, Andrea Romano, Alan Smart, Aaron Springer, Paul Tibbitt, Vincent Waller and Tom Yasumi (2012)

Outstanding Special Class Animated Program

Animators: Dina Buteyn, Stephen Hillenburg and Paul Tibbitt (2010)

Outstanding Children's Animated Program

Nominees: Stephen Hillenburg, Jennie Monica Hammond and Paul Tibbitt (2012)

Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program

Voice actors: Rodger Bumpass as Squidward Tentacles (2012)

Outstanding Sound Editing – Animation

Nominees: Todd Brodie, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Chris Gresham, Matt Hall, Jeffrey Hutchins, James Lifton, Paulette Lifton, D.J. Lynch, Aran Tanchum and Kimberlee Vanek (2012) • Mishelle Fordham, Vincent Guisetti, Jeffrey Hutchins, James Lifton, Paulette Lifton, D.J. Lynch, Wes Otis, Monique Reymond and Aran Tanchum (2013) • Devon Bowman, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Jeff Hutchins, Aran Tanchum and Vincent Guisetti (2014)

Golden Reel Awards StatueStraight

Best Sound Editing in Television Animation – Music

Nominees: Stephen Hillenburg, Donna Castricone, Nicholas R. Jennings, Alan Smart, Peter Burns, Doug Lawrence, Derek Drymon, Alex Gordon, Donna Grillo, Jennie Monica, Krandal Crews, Jim Leber, Justin Brinsfield, Tony Ostyn, Nicolas Carr (for "Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy"/"Pickles;" 2000)Nicolas Carr (for "Fools in April"/"Neptune's Spatula" in 2001; for "Jellyfish Hunter"/"The Fry Cook Games" in 2002; for "Wet Painters"/"Krusty Krab Training Video" in 2003; for "The Great Snail Race"/"Mid-Life Crustacean" in 2004) • Jimmy Lifton, D.J. Lynch, Jeff Hutchins, Tony Ostyn and Paulette Lifton (for "Mid-Life Crustacean;" 2004)

Best Sound Editing in Television Animation – Sound

Nominees: Nicolas Carr (for "Karate Choppers;" 2000) • Andrea Anderson, Jimmy Lifton, Monette Holderer, D.J. Lynch, Vincent Gutisetti, Jeff Hutchins and Gabriel Rosas (for "Rock Bottom"/"Arrgh!;" 2001)

Best Sound Editing in Television – Animation

Nominees: Timothy J. Borquez, Jeff Hutchins and Daisuke Sawa (for "The Secret Box"/"Band Geeks;" 2002)

Best Sound Editing in Television Animation

Nominees: Jimmy Lifton, Jeff Hutchins, Tony Ostyn and Chris Gresham (for "Nasty Patty"/"Idiot Box;" 2012)

Best Sound Editing in Television: Animated

Nominees: Jimmy Lifton, Nicolas Carr, D.J. Lynch, Jeff Hutchins, Tony Ostyn, Chris Gresham and Paulette Lifton (for "Pranks a Lot"/"SpongeBob Meets the Strangler;" 2005) • Vincent Gutisetti, Jimmy Lifton, Nicolas Carr, Monique Reymond, D.J. Lynch, Mark Howlett, Jeff Hutchins, Aran Tanchum, Mishelle Smith and Paulette Lifton (for "Have You Seen This Snail?;" 2006)Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Tom Syslo, Jason Stiff, Tony Orozco and Kimberlee Vanek (for "SpongeHenge;" 2008)

Best Sound Editing: Television Animation

Nominees: : Chiho Oyamada Carr, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Daisuke Sawa, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Tom Syslo, Eric Freeman, Dan Cubert, Lawrence Reyes, Jason Stiff, Tony Orozco and Kimberlee Vanek (for "Suction Cup Symphony;" 2009) • Chino Oyamada Carr, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Eric Freeman, Tom Syslo, Keith Dickens, Jason Stiff, Sergio Silva, Tony Orozco and Kimberlee Vanek (for "SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One;" 2010)

Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue and ADR Animation in Television

Nominees: Devon Bowman, Justin Brinsfield, Nicolas Carr, Andrea Anderson, Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Eric Freeman, Tony Orozco and Danny Tchibinda (for "Gary's New Toy;" 2013) • Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Tom Syslo, Eric Freeman, Bobby Crew, Keith Dickens, Gabriel Rossas and Tony Orozco (for "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!;" 2013)


British Academy Children's Awards Logo master

International Category

Recipients: Stephen Hillenburg and Alan Smart (2007)Paul Tibbitt, Casey Alexander and Zeus Cervas (2012)Marc Ceccarelli, Luke Brookshier and Vincent Waller (2014)

Annecy International Animated Film FestivalAnnecy International Animated Film Festival logo.svg

Special Award

Episodes: Fear of a Krabby Patty (2005)

Special Award for a TV Series

Episodes: It's a SpongeBob Christmas! (2013)

Artios Awards

Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Animation TV Programming

Nominees: Sarah Noonan (2010)

Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Animation

Nominees: Sarah Noonan (2011; 2013)

ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Film tv invite 2a

Top Television Series

Nominees: Steven Belfer, Nicolas Carr, Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg, Pat Irwin, Stephen Marston, Blaise Smith, Barry Trop and Ron Wasserman (2011-2013)

BMI Film & TV Awards Logo bmi

BMI Cable Award

Nominees: Michael Bolger, Sage Guyton, Eban Schletter and Jeremy Wakefield (2013)

Satellite Awards 79d5dec3b358448c8a5c20fbd09816b5

Best Youth DVD

DVDs: The Complete 2nd Season (2005)

THEA Awards Bigtheatranslogocolor(1)

Outstanding Achivement - Attraction

Rides: SpongeBob SubPants Adventure (2016)

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