Remembering Stephen Hillenburg
By Jonathan Benn
As an eight-year old second grader with an overactive imagination and an infatuation for cartoons, every Saturday morning started off the same. I would wake up, take my mother’s large green pillow off the couch, lay on it on my stomach three feet away from the tv, and flip to channel 300 to visit my friends in Bikini Bottom.
Spongebob Squarepants had become routine for me and so many other children across the world. It was kind of like a “default show” for Nickelodeon - a television series that was just always on, and seemed like it always would be. Spongebob represented love, friendship, and fun. These were character traits which were given to him by the show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg who passed away today at the age of 57 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sceloris (ALS).
Hillenberg began his professional career as a marine biologist, stating that he had always had a fascination with the ocean- ”Working as a marine science educator, I had the chance to see how enamored kids are with undersea life, especially tide pool creatures. By combining this knowledge with my love for animation, I came up with SpongeBob SquarePants.“. At the age of 28, after teaching the subject at the Orange County Marine Institute for a few years, he decided to enroll in CalArts to study animation.
After making several successful short films in college, Hillenburg began animating for Nickelodeon on the show, Rocko’s Modern Life. During this time, Hillenberg was developing an original idea he had created while teaching marine biology called The Intertidal Zone, which eventually evolved into Spongebob Squarepants.
Hillenberg worked hands-on as a director, writer, and producer on the show up until the series’ first theatrical-debut, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie in 2004, and then returning again to the helm in 2015 to continue running the television show. Spongebob Squarepants is Nickelodeon’s most successful franchise by far, and the show is currently in production of its twelfth season.
Hillenburg's legacy is unquestionable. For the past two decades his creation has continued to reach, inspire, and entertain millions of children and adults alike. The world of animators, creatives, children, and everyone who grew up with our pal, Spongebob will miss him dearly.
With Hillenburg’s death, a part of the child that sat on the green pillow tuned into channel 300 has also gone away.
This piece is by Jonathan Benn. Follow him on Twitter @Bon_Jenn.