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

Stephen McDannell Hillenburg[1] (August 21, 1961 - November 26, 2018; aged 57) was an American marine biologist, animator, and the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. He left production shortly after the first movie was completed, and returned upon creation of the second, continuing to be the showrunner from then until his death in 2018.

Other than behind-the-scenes work, he voiced Potty the Parrot from 2000 to 2004 and was a ukulele player for some songs, including "Best Day Ever."

It was announced he was diagnosed with ALS on March 13, 2017[2], but he still continued working on the show, despite his deteriorating health.

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


In 1984, 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.[3]

In 1987, 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 in 1992, 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 Nickelodeon's 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.[3]

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 complainant 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 his best to work on the series as best he could from then on.

On November 26, 2018, Hillenburg passed away from ALS-related complications. The day after he died, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered across the coast of California, close to where Bikini Bottom resides.[4][5] The future of the show is currently in doubt, though Vincent Waller has stated that the show would still continue.[6]


  • 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."[7][8]
  • On May 25, 2012, Hillenburg announced that he would be writing The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.
  • Sometimes, he is referred to as "Steven or Steve Hillenburg."
  • After The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie came out, Hillenburg left the show, because he wanted the show to end. However, Hillenburg did not leave the show entirely; he still served as an executive producer.[9]
  • According to Paul Tibbitt's Twitter feed, Hillenburg came back to work on the series in January 2015. This was proven true as he produced some episodes from season 9.
    • He served as executive producer of the show from 2015 to 2018, after being absent from the position for 10 years and 2 months.
  • According to Vincent Waller, he was about 5'8 feet tall.[10]
  • Stephen Hillenburg is the first creator of an animated Nickelodeon series to pass away.
  • 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.[11]
  • He named Karen Plankton after his wife, Karen Hillenburg.
  • He is against revealing the identity of Mrs. Krabs and has kept it a secret throughout the series.
  • According to Vincent Waller on Twitter[12], it is known that Stephen himself says he hates the idea of SpongeBob having a crossover with another cartoon, and it's unknown why he dislikes crossovers, probably because he finds them pointless, or he is against the idea of SpongeBob getting a crossover. However, Patchy the Pirate appeared in a Big Time Rush episode only once, meaning Patchy was the only live-action character of the series to appear in another show.
  • Season 11 is the last season to end before Hillenburg's passing.
    • "Goons on the Moon" is the last episode to air in airing order before Hillenburg's passing.
  • Season 12 is the last season to premiere before Hillenburg's passing.
    • "FarmerBob" is the last episode to air in production order before Hillenburg's passing.
  • The SpongeBob Movie: The Sponge Out of Water is the last entry of the SpongeBob SquarePants film trilogy to be released during Hillenburg's lifetime.
  • Nickelodeon Kart Racers was the last SpongeBob video game to be released during Stephen Hillenburg's lifetime.
  • The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom DVD, Big Hits: Volume 1 and The First & Second Seasons were the last SpongeBob DVDs to be released during Stephen Hillenburg's lifetime.
  • SpongeBob Comics No. 85 was the last SpongeBob comic book to be released during Stephen Hillenburg's lifetime.


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.


SpongeBob SquarePants Meet the Creator Stephen Hillenburg Nickelodeon Animation Studio

SpongeBob SquarePants Meet the Creator Stephen Hillenburg Nickelodeon Animation Studio


External links

Wikipedia may have more biographical information on this person. Please see Wikipedia's article here.

Cast and Crew (VTE)

Bill FagerbakkeCarolyn LawrenceClancy BrownDee Bradley BakerDoug LawrenceDennis QuaidFrank WelkerJill TalleyJoe WhyteLori AlanMary Jo CatlettRodger BumpassSirena IrwinTom KennyMark FiteGuest stars

Aaron SpringerAdam FayAdam PaloianAlan SmartAndrea RomanoAndrew GoodmanAndrew OvertoomBlake LemonsBob CampBob JaquesBrad VandergriftBrian MoranteBrice MallierBruce HellerCaleb MeurerCarson KuglerCasey AlexanderCatherine SimmondsC.H. GreenblattCharlie BeanChris AllisonChris HeadrickChris MitchellChris ReccardiChuck KleinClare O'KaneClint Bond Jr.Dave 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 MartinezHowie PerryIan GrahamIIya SkorupskyJack PendarvisJanice TolentinoJay LenderJennie MonicaJim SchumannJoe LissJoe WierengaJohn MagnessJohn TrabbicJosh AndroskyKaren HeathwoodKazKelly ArmstrongKent OsborneKris WimberlyKurt SnyderKyle McCullochLarry LeFrancisLarry LeichliterLeonard RobinsonLloyd AhlquistLuke BrookshierLynne NaylorMarc CeccarelliMarcelo SouzaMarco CinelloMark CaballeroMark O'HareMaureen MascarinaMerriwether WilliamsMike BellMike FasoloMike MitchellMike RothMonica DavilaMonica TomovaNate CashNick CrossNick JenningsOctavio RodriguezPaul TibbittPeter BennettPeter BurnsPeter ShukoffPhilip HarrisRichard PurselRobertryan CoryRob RosenRobert DressRyan KhatamRyan KramerSam HendersonSolomon GeorgioSeamus WalshSaeid ZameniateniSean CharmatzSean DempseySherm CohenShellie O'BrienStephen HerczegStephen HillenburgSteve FontiSteven BanksSyd DaleThaddeus Paul CouldronTim HillTim ParsonsTeale Reon WangTed SekoTodd WhiteTom KingTom YasumiTuck TuckerVincent WallerVirginia HawesWalt DohrnWilliam ReissZeus 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)

Start a Discussion Discussions about Stephen Hillenburg