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Stephen Hillenburg

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Stephen Hillenburg
A photograph of a middle-aged man standing and holding a book
Hillenburg, holding the SpongeBob SquarePants bible, in 2011
Born Stephen McDannell Hillenburg
(1961-08-21) August 21, 1961 (age 55)
Lawton, Oklahoma, U.S.
Alma mater
Occupation
  • Marine biologist
  • cartoonist
  • animator
  • director
  • producer
  • writer
Years active 1984–present
Notable work SpongeBob SquarePants
Spouse(s) Karen Hillenburg
Children 1
Signature
Stephen Hillenburg signature.svg

Stephen McDannell "Steve" Hillenburg[1][2] (born August 21, 1961) is an American marine biologist, cartoonist, animator, director, producer and writer. He is the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–), which has gone on to become one of the longest-running U.S. television series as well as the highest-rated show to ever air on Nickelodeon.

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma and raised in Anaheim, California, Hillenburg became fascinated with the ocean as a child. Also at a young age, he developed an interest in art. Hillenburg started his professional career in 1984, teaching marine biology, at the Orange County Marine Institute, where he wrote The Intertidal Zone, an educational comic book about tide pool animals, which he used to instruct his students. In 1989, Hillenburg enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts to pursue a career in animation. He was later offered a job on the Nickelodeon animated television series Rocko's Modern Life (1993–96) after his success with animated short films The Green Beret and Wormholes (both 1992), which he made while studying animation.

In 1994, Hillenburg began developing The Intertidal Zone characters and concepts for what became SpongeBob SquarePants. The show premiered in 1999 and has since aired 205 episodes. He also directed The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), for which he received a nomination for an Annie Award for Directing in a Feature Production. Once the film was completed, Hillenburg resigned from the television series as its showrunner. He returned to making animated short films, with Hollywood Blvd., USA (2013).

Besides his two Emmy Awards and six Annie Awards for SpongeBob SquarePants, Hillenburg has also received other recognition, such as the Walk the Talk award from Heal the Bay for his efforts on elevating marine life awareness, and the Television Animation Award from the National Cartoonists Society. Despite this, he has been involved in several public controversies, including one that was centered on speculation over SpongeBob SquarePants' intended sexual orientation, and a lawsuit that was filed against him.

Early life and education

Stephen Hillenburg was born on August 21, 1961 at Fort Sill,[3][4][5][6] a U.S. Army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, because his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg Jr. (July 16, 1936 – August 30, 2006),[7] was working for the U.S. military.[8] His mother, Nancy (née Dufour),[7] taught visually-impaired students.[3][4][5] Kelly was born in Roanoke, Virginia and was educated in the Virginia Military Institute.[7] He served in the U.S. Army[7] until Hillenburg's birth in 1961.[8] The following year, when Hillenburg was a year old,[8] the family moved to Orange County, California.[3][4] There, Kelly started a career in the aerospace industry,[8] working as a draftsman and designer for aerospace manufacturers[4][5] (such as the Hughes Aircraft Company,[7] McDonnell Douglas, and Rockwell Collins[8]) and contributing to NASA's Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.[8] Hillenburg's younger brother, Bryan,[7] followed in their father's footsteps, becoming a draftsman and designer.[4] Hillenburg has no recollection of life in Oklahoma[8] because he grew up in Anaheim.[8][9]

When an interviewer asked him to describe himself as a child, Hillenburg replied that he was "probably well-meaning and naive like all kids."[10][11] Hillenburg's passion for sea life can be traced to his childhood, when several films by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau made a strong impression on him.[4][8][9] He told that Cousteau "provided a view into that world", which he did not know existed.[8] He then liked to explore tide pools as a child, bringing home objects that "should have been left there and that ended up dying and smelling really bad."[11] Also at a young age, Hillenburg developed his interest in art.[8][12] His first drawing was a slice of an orange, while the illustration that he drew in third grade that depicted "a bunch of army men ... kissing and hugging instead of fighting" marked his first praise after his teacher commended it.[8] "Of course, this is 1970 ... She liked it because, I mean, obviously that was in the middle of [Vietnam War.] She was, I would imagine, not a hundred percent for the war like a lot of people then. ... I had no idea about the implications, really, because I just thought it was a funny idea. I remember that still, that moment when she said, 'oh my gosh, look at that'," Hillenburg elaborated.[8] It was then when he knew that he "had some [creative] skill".[8] Hillenburg asserted that his artistry comes from his mother's side, despite his father being a draftsman, stating further that his maternal grandmother was "really, really gifted" and a "great painter".[8] In the 1970s, someone took him to the International Tournée of Animation, which was visiting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hillenburg was "knocked out" by the foreign animated films that were screened in the festival, including Dutch animator Paul Driessen's The Killing of an Egg (1977). "That was the film that I thought was uniquely strange and that lodged itself in my head early on," he recounted.[13]

"I've always been interested in art and making things, but I chose not to go to art school because I thought I needed to do something else. Art was a tough way to make a living. I've always done both. I just kind of figured that the marine biology would be a career and the art would be something I did for my own self-expression."

 Stephen Hillenburg[10]

In Anaheim, Hillenburg attended Savanna High School,[4][10][14] during which time he was a "band geek" who played the trumpet.[8] At the age of 15, he snorkeled for the first time;[4][5][10] Hillenburg took part in a "dive program"[8] at Woods Coves[10] in Laguna Beach,[4][5] as part of the Regional Occupational Program at Savanna.[8] This experience, as well as subsequent episodes of diving,[8] reinforced his interest and led to his decision to study marine biology in college:[4][5][8][10][14] "The switch clicked and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I also liked being an artist."[12] Some of his high-school teachers, who knew of his interest in art and fascination with the ocean, advised him otherwise,[8] saying "You should just draw fish."[8][15] However, the idea of drawing fish seemed boring to him and he was more riveted by "making weird, little paintings".[8] During a few summers after finishing high school, Hillenburg worked as a fry cook and lobster boiler[16] at a fast-food seafood restaurant[4] in Maine.[16] (This later inspired SpongeBob SquarePants' job in the television series, which he would begin developing in 1994.[16])

Hillenburg went to Humboldt State University as a marine-science major.[8] He also minored in art,[8] and claimed that "[he] blossomed as a painter in Humboldt."[17] In 1984, Hillenburg earned his bachelor's degree in natural-resource planning and interpretation, with an emphasis in marine resources.[4][5][14][18] He intended to take a master's degree, but said it would be in art:[8] "Initially I think I assumed that if I went to school for art I would never have any way of making a living, so I thought it might be smarter to keep art my passion and hobby and study something else. But by the time I got to the end of my undergrad work, I realized I should be in art."[4]

Early career

Hillenburg taught marine biology to visitors of the Orange County Marine Institute (pictured) in Dana Point, California during the mid-1980s.

Hillenburg held various jobs in 1984, after graduating from college, including park service attendant in Utah and art director in San Francisco, before landing "exactly what [he] wanted to do, which was [to] teach kids".[8] His "hope was to work in a national park on the coast."[12] He eventually found a job at the Orange County Marine Institute (now known as the Ocean Institute),[12] an organization in Dana Point, California that is dedicated to educating the public about marine science and maritime history.[19] Hillenburg was a marine-biology teacher there for three years:[4][5][20] "We taught tide-pool ecology, nautical history, diversity and adaptation. Working there, I saw how enamored kids are with undersea life, especially with tide-pool creatures."[10][21] He stayed at the Dana Point Marina[14] and was also a staff artist.[8][16][22] Although "[i]t was a great experience" for him,[12] during this period, Hillenburg realized he was more interested in art than his chosen profession.[20]

While working there, Hillenburg was asked by one of the educational directors if he would be interested to create an educational comic book about the animal life of tidal pools.[8][12][23] He wrote the comic, entitled The Intertidal Zone, which he used to teach his students.[23] It starred various anthropomorphic forms of sea life, many of which would evolve into SpongeBob SquarePants characters,[24] including "Bob the Sponge", who was the co-host of the comic and resembled an actual sea sponge, as opposed to SpongeBob SquarePants who resembles a kitchen sponge.[25] He tried to get the comic professionally published, but was turned down by the publishers that he approached.[8][12]

At one point during his tenure with the Orange County Marine Institute, Hillenburg started going to animation festivals such as the International Tournée of Animation and Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation where, at one of those, films made by California Institute of the Arts (colloquially called CalArts) students were shown.[8][13] He determined that he wanted to pursue a career in that field, saying "I'm going to CalArts."[8][13] Hillenburg had already been planning on taking a master's degree in art. Instead of "going back to school for painting",[8] he left his job in 1987 to become an animator.[24][25] In 1989,[12] Hillenburg enrolled in the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts:[4][24][25] "Changing careers like that is scary, but the irony is that animation is a pretty healthy career right now and science education is more of a struggle," he admitted.[26] Hillenburg studied under Jules Engel,[27][28] the founding director of that program,[28][29] and graduated in 1992,[4][10] earning a Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation.[4]

Animation career

Early works

Shots from The Green Beret (top) and Wormholes

Hillenburg made his first animated works, short films The Green Beret and Wormholes (both 1992[30]), while at CalArts.[4][5][6][26] The Green Beret was about a physically-challenged Girl Scout with enormous fists who toppled houses and destroyed neighborhoods while trying to sell Girl Scout cookies.[4][5][6] Wormholes, on the other hand, was Hillenburg's seven-minute thesis film,[25][31] about the theory of relativity.[4][5][31] He described it as "a poetic animated film based on relativistic phenomena", in his grant proposal in 1991 to the Princess Grace Foundation,[32] which is ardent to assisting emerging artists in American theater, dance and film.[33] The foundation agreed to fund the effort, providing Hillenburg with a Graduate Film Scholarship.[32][34] "It meant a lot. They funded one of the projects I'm most proud of, even with SpongeBob. It provided me the opportunity just to make a film that was personal, and what I would call independent, and free of some of the commercial needs," he said in 2003.[32] Wormholes was shown at several international animation festivals,[26][32] including the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen,[35] and the Ottawa International Animation Festival,[36] where it won Best Concept.[37] LA Weekly labeled the film "road-trippy" and "Zap-comical",[38] while Manohla Dargis of the The New York Times opined that it was inventive.[29]

Hillenburg explained that "anything goes" in experimental animation. Although this allowed him to explore alternatives to conventional methods of filmmaking, he still ventured to employ his own style, which he called "an industry style"; Hillenburg preferred to traditionally animate his films (where each frame is drawn by hand) rather than, for instance, make cartoons "out of sand by filming piles of sand changing".[8] Hillenburg has at least one other short film that he made as an animation student, but its title is unspecified.[13][22]

Rocko's Modern Life

Hillenburg's first professional career in the animation business was as a director[22][25] on Rocko's Modern Life (1993–96),[5][22][24] Nickelodeon's first in-house cartoon production.[39] He "ended up finding work in the industry and got a job" at that television network after he met the show's creator, Joe Murray,[32] at the 1992 Ottawa International Animation Festival,[13][22] where Wormholes and Murray's My Dog Zero were both in competition.[36] Murray, who was at the time looking for people to direct Rocko's Modern Life,[22] saw Hillenburg's film and offered him a directorial role on the television series.[8][22][25] Hillenburg "[had] friends that [gave him] a hard time about [the offer]. ... but doors opened when [he] stepped into the animation world," so he accepted it.[22] He "was planning on being a starving artist": "[I spent] several thousand dollars to make a film and [realized] I may not make it back—I had loans out. Fortunately, Joe Murray saw my film .. and he took a huge chance," Hillenburg related.[13]

Hillenburg worked closely with Murray[40] on Rocko's Modern Life for its whole run on the air.[4] Aside from directing, he also produced, wrote for some episodes and served as the executive story editor.[4][5] In 1995,[4][40] Hillenburg was promoted to creative director, in which he helped oversee pre- and post-production.[4][5][40] Working on the series "helped [Hillenburg] pay back all [his] loans."[12] He later told that he "learned a great deal about writing and producing animation for TV" from his stint on Rocko's Modern Life.[41]

SpongeBob SquarePants

Main article: SpongeBob SquarePants

Creation

Some evidence shows that the idea for SpongeBob SquarePants dates back to 1986, during Hillenburg's time at the Orange County Marine Institute.[2] Hillenburg indicated that children's television series such as The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse (1987–88) and Pee-wee's Playhouse (1986–91) "sparked something in [him]." He continued, "I don't know if this is true for everybody else, but it always seems like, for me, I'll start thinking about something and it takes about ten years to actually have it happen, or have someone else believe in it... It took me a few years to get [SpongeBob SquarePants] together."[22] During the production of Rocko's Modern Life, Martin Olson, one of the writers, read The Intertidal Zone and encouraged Hillenburg to create a television series with a similar concept. At that point, Hillenburg had not even considered creating his own series:[8] "After watching Joe [Murray] tear his hair out a lot, dealing with all the problems that came up, I thought I would never want to produce a show of my own."[40] However, he realized that if he ever did, this would be the best approach:[8][25][42] "For all those years it seemed like I was doing these two totally separate things. I wondered what it all meant. I didn't see a synthesis. It was great when it all came together in [a show]. I felt relieved that I hadn't wasted a lot of time doing something that I then abandoned to do something else. It has been pretty rewarding," Hillenburg said in 2002.[4] He claimed that he decided to finally create a series as he was driving to the beach on the Santa Monica Freeway one day.[40]

As he was developing the show's concept, Hillenburg remembered his teaching experience at the Orange County Marine Institute and how mesmerized children were to tide pool animals, including crabs, octopuses, starfish and sponges.[4][5][40] It came to him that the series should take place underwater, with a focus on those creatures: "I wanted to create a small town underwater where the characters were more like us than like fish. They have fire. They take walks. They drive. They have pets and holidays."[40] It suited what Hillenburg liked for a show, "something that was fantastic but believable."[40] He also wanted his series to stand out from most popular cartoons of the time, which he felt were exemplified by buddy comedies such as The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991–95). As a result, he decided to focus on one main character: the weirdest sea creature that he could think of. This led him to the sponge.[8] In 1994,[16] Hillenburg began to further develop some of the characters from The Intertidal Zone,[8][16] including Bob the Sponge.[8]

Bob the Sponge from The Intertidal Zone, discussing molting and the declawing of crabs.

Bob the Sponge is the comic's "announcer".[8] He resembles an actual sea sponge, and at first Hillenburg continued this design[8][22][25][43] because it "was the correct thing to do biologically as a marine science teacher."[40] In determining the new character's personality, Hillenburg drew inspiration from innocent, childlike figures that he enjoyed, such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis and Pee-wee Herman.[2][8][22][44] He then considered modeling the character after a kitchen sponge, and realized that this idea would perfectly match the character's square personality:[8][25][22] "[I]t looked so funny. I think as far as cartoon language goes he was easier to recognize. He seemed to fit the character type I was looking for—a somewhat nerdy, squeaky clean oddball."[40][45] To voice the central character of the series, Hillenburg turned to Tom Kenny, whose career in animation had started alongside Hillenburg's on Rocko's Modern Life. Elements of Kenny's own personality were employed in further developing the character.[46][47]

In 1997, while pitching the cartoon to executives at Nickelodeon, Hillenburg donned a Hawaiian shirt, brought along an "underwater terrarium with models of the characters", and played Hawaiian music to set the theme. The setup was described by Nickelodeon executive Eric Coleman as "pretty amazing".[25] Although Derek Drymon, creative director of SpongeBob SquarePants, described the pitch as stressful, he said it went "very well".[25] Nickelodeon approved and gave Hillenburg money to produce the show.[48]

Broadcast

SpongeBob SquarePants is Nickelodeon's first original Saturday-morning cartoon.[15][49] It first aired as a preview on May 1, 1999,[9][50] and officially premiered on July 17.[9][15] Hillenburg noted that the show's premise "is that innocence prevails—which I don't think it always does in real life."[48] It has received positive reviews from critics, and has been noted for its appeal towards different age groups.[4][48] James Poniewozik of Time described the titular character as "the anti-Bart Simpson, temperamentally and physically: his head is as squared-off and neat as Bart's is unruly, and he has a personality to match—conscientious, optimistic and blind to the faults in the world and those around him".[51] On the other hand, The New York Times critic Joyce Millman said that the show "is clever without being impenetrable to young viewers and goofy without boring grown-ups to tears. It's the most charming toon on television, and one of the weirdest. ... Like Pee-wee's Playhouse, SpongeBob joyfully dances on the fine line between childhood and adulthood, guilelessness and camp, the warped and the sweet".[52]

SpongeBob SquarePants was an immediate hit.[48] Within its first month on air, it overtook Pokémon (1997–) as the highest-rated Saturday-morning children's series.[49] By the end of 2001, the show boasted the highest ratings for any children's series, not only on Nickelodeon, but on all of television.[14][53][54] Nickelodeon began adding SpongeBob SquarePants to its Monday-through-Thursday prime-time block. This programming change significantly increased the number of older audiences.[55] By May 2002, the show's total viewership reached more than 61 million, 20 million of which were aged 18 to 49.[55] Hillenburg did not expect that the show would be very popular even to adults: "I never imagined that it would get to this point. When you set out to do a show about a sponge, you can't anticipate this kind of craze. We just try to make ourselves laugh, then ask if it's appropriate for children. I can tell you that we hoped it would be liked by adults. But we really thought the best we could hope for was a college audience."[56] SpongeBob SquarePants has gone on to become one of the longest-running series on Nickelodeon.[57] "Ten years. I never imagined working on the show to this date and this long. It never was possible to conceive that. ... I really figured we might get a season and a cult following, and that might be it," Hillenburg said in 2009 during the show's tenth anniversary.[13] Its popularity has made it media franchise, which is the most-distributed property of MTV Networks,[58] and as of 2015 has generated $12 billion in merchandising revenue.[59]

Departure

In 2002, Hillenburg halted the production on the show after the third season had been completed to focus on the making of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was set for release in 2004:[60] "I don't want to try and do a movie and the series at the same time. We have 60 episodes and that is probably as many as [Nickelodeon] really needs. It is a standard number for a show like this. I have done a little research and people say it is just crazy doing a series and movie at the same time. I would rather concentrate on doing a good job on the movie."[30] He directed the film from a story that he wrote with five other writers from the series (Paul Tibbitt, Derek Drymon, Aaron Springer, Kent Osborne and Tim Hill).[61] The writers created a mythical hero's quest: the search for a stolen crown, which brings SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick to the surface.[62] The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie grossed $140 million worldwide,[63] and received positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes rates it 68 percent positive based on 125 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. Its consensus states in summary, "Surreally goofy and entertaining for both children and their parents."[64]

"It reached to a point where I felt I'd contributed a lot and said what I wanted to say. At that point, the show needed new blood and so I selected Paul [Tibbitt] to produce. I totally trusted him. I always enjoyed the way he captured the SpongeBob character's sense of humor. And as a writer, you have to move on—I'm developing new projects."

 Stephen Hillenburg on leaving SpongeBob SquarePants as the showrunner[13]

After completing the film, Hillenburg wanted to end the series "so [it] wouldn't jump the shark":[13][65] "We're working on episodes 40 through 60 right now, and I always looked at that as a typical run for an animated show. [The Ren & Stimpy Show] lasted about that long, for example. And I thought now was a good time to step aside and look at a different project. I personally think it's good not to go to the point where people don't want to see your show anymore," Hillenburg said in 2002.[4] However, Nickelodeon wanted to produce more episodes: "The show was such a cash cow for the station that it couldn't afford to," storyboard director Sam Henderson observed.[65] Hillenburg initially doubted that the network would continue the show without him, saying "I think [Nickelodeon executives] respect that my contribution is important. I think they would want to maintain the original concept and quality."[4] Consequently, he resigned as the showrunner[66] and appointed his trusted staff member Paul Tibbitt to the role.[13][67][68] Although he no longer has a direct involvement in the production of SpongeBob SquarePants, he still retains a position as an executive producer[2] and maintains an advisory role, reviewing each episode.[66][69] While he was on the show, Hillenburg voiced Potty the Parrot[70] and sat in with Derek Drymon on the record studio to direct the voice actors while they were recording.[71] During the fourth season, Tibbitt took on voicing for Potty,[72] while Andrea Romano replaced the two as the voice director.[71]

In 2014, Tibbitt announced on his Twitter account that Hillenburg would return to the show. However, he did not specify what position the former showrunner would hold.[73] As early as 2012, Hillenburg had already been contributing to another film based on the series,[8] which was first reported in 2011[74] and officially announced the following year.[75] Called The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, the second film adaptation was directed by Tibbitt. He also wrote the story with Hillenburg, who "[had] been in the studio everyday working with [the crew]."[76] Besides writing, Hillenburg also executive produced.[77] He said in 2014, "Actually when [the film] wraps, I want to get back to the show. ... it is getting harder and harder to come up with stories. So Paul [Tibbitt] and I are really going to brainstorm and come up with fresh material."[12] The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was released in 2015[78] to positive critical reception, currently holding a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 80 percent and an average rating of 6.5/10.[79] It earned $323.4 million worldwide,[80] becoming the second highest-grossing film based off an animated television show, behind The Simpsons Movie (2007).[81]

Controversy

Despite its widespread popularity, SpongeBob SquarePants has been involved in public controversies. In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob and other characters from children's shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance was attacked by an evangelical group because they saw SpongeBob as being used to "advocate homosexuality".[82][83] James Dobson of Focus on the Family accused the video of promoting homosexuality, due to it being sponsored by a pro-tolerance group.[82] The incident accentuated questions as to whether or not SpongeBob is gay. Although the character has enjoyed popularity with gay viewers, Hillenburg had already denied the issue in 2002, clarifying at the time that he considers the character to be "somewhat asexual".[84] After Dobson's comments, Hillenburg reasserted his position, stating that sexual preference does not play a part in what they are "trying to do" with the series.[85][86] Dobson later stated that his comments were taken out of context, and that his original complaints were not with SpongeBob, the video or any of the characters in the video, but rather with the organization that sponsored the video, the We Are Family Foundation.[87]

Other pursuits

In 1998,[88] Hillenburg formed United Plankton Pictures, a television and film production company, which produces SpongeBob SquarePants and related media. It has also helped fund the Humboldt State University Marine Lab.[17] Since 2011, the company is publishing SpongeBob Comics, a comic book series based on the cartoon and distributed by Bongo Comics Group.[89][90] Hillenburg announced it in that year in a press release, in which he expressed, "I'm hoping that fans will enjoy finally having a SpongeBob comic book from me."[89][90] Various cartoonists, including James Kochalka, Hilary Barta, Graham Annable, Gregg Schigiel and Jacob Chabot, have contributed to issues of the comic.[89][90]

A still from Hollywood Blvd., USA

According to Jeff Lenburg, in his book Who's Who in Animated Cartoons, Hillenburg was co-writing and co-directing for a second animated feature film based on Rob Zombie's comic book series, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, which was slated for a 2006 release.[91] Hillenburg stated in 2009 that he was developing two other television projects that he did not want to discuss.[13][92]

In 2010,[8] Hillenburg commenced working on Hollywood Blvd., USA,[17] a new short film for animation festivals.[8] In making the two-minute film,[12] he videotaped people walking and animated them in walk cycles.[8][12] Hillenburg said in 2012, "I hope to get [the film] done. It takes forever." He was aiming to finish it "before [that] fall".[8] In 2013,[93] three years after production began, Hollywood Blvd., USA was released to festivals.[12] Hillenburg characterized it as a "personal film" and detailed that "it's not a narrative. It's just really about people in our town."[8]

Personal life

Hillenburg's wife is Karen, a chef who teaches at New School of Cooking, a cooking school in Culver City, California.[6][30] Hillenburg deems her to be the funniest person that he knows.[30] The couple have a son named Clay (born c. 1998).[6][30] Hillenburg formerly resided in Hollywood[30][56] and in Pasadena,[7][20] and now lives with his family in San Marino.[94] His hobbies include surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and performing "noisy rock music" on his guitar.[4][6][30] He would jam with his son, who is a drummer; this activity, according to Hillenburg, is "a great way to bond with each other."[95] He also enjoys birdwatching at home,[95] but says that he was always "an ocean freak".[11]

According to his colleagues, Hillenburg is "a perfectionist workaholic".[20] He is also known for his private nature. Julia Pistor, co-producer of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, noted that Hillenburg is "very shy". She went on to say, "He doesn't want people to know about his life or family. He's just a really funny, down-to-earth guy with a dry sense of humor who puts his family first and keeps us on our toes in keeping our corporate integrity."[20] Hillenburg said about himself, "I make animation because I like to draw and create things. I have no real interest to be on camera or to be a celebrity. It's not that I don't like people, but I like having my privacy."[60]

Hillenburg considers Jules Engel his "Art Dad".[96][97] Engel was his mentor in the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts.[28] The marine biologist was accepted into the program by him, who was impressed by The Intertidal Zone.[8][25] Hillenburg posited further, "[Engel] also was a painter, so I think he saw my paintings and could easily say, 'Oh, this guy could fit in to this program.' I don't have any [prior experience in] animation really."[8] In 2003, during the production of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Engel died at the age of 94.[98] Hillenburg dedicated the film to his memory.[99] He told that Engel "truly was the most influential artistic person in [his] life."[96][97]

Lawsuit

External image

Bob Spongee, the Unemployed Sponge promotional advertisement

Troy Walker's comic strip and homemade doll, sold in 1992

In 2007, cartoonist Troy Walker sued Hillenburg, claiming that the marine biologist stole the idea for the SpongeBob SquarePants character from Walker's 1991 comic strip, Bob Spongee, the Unemployed Sponge, and the eponymous homemade doll.[100][101][102] In his original concept, Walker drew a face on a kitchen sponge and attached googly eyes.[100] He produced approximately 1,000 of the "drawn-on" dolls.[16][100] Walker then placed those models in clear plastic bags that included the comic strip, and sold them at flea markets in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1992.[16] He also made an advertisement in the Oakland Tribune,[16][100] through which he sold fewer than 20 dolls.[16] After learning about SpongeBob SquarePants in 2002, Walker concluded, "It obviously fell into the hands of one of the producers of the show. It's a clear pattern of duplication."[100] He did not register the comic strip with the U.S. Copyright Office until 2003.[16]

Walker also filed the lawsuit against Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures (the distributor of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) and Viacom (their parent company) in a U.S. district court in San Francisco. He demanded $1.6 billion in damages, alleging that Hillenburg used his idea without his permission. Walker added in his complaint, "It is more than ironic that two working class sponges are named Bob. Both characters are unemployed. Both characters live in a house concept,"[100][101][102] referring to "Help Wanted" (the pilot episode of SpongeBob SquarePants) which, he supposed, "represents an obvious continuum from the last scene of the Bob Spongee comic strip."[16] In a public statement, Viacom stated that they believed that Walker's claim was "baseless".[100][101][102] A settlement conference, filed on May 13, 2008, was conducted at the Northern District Federal Court in San Francisco. The matter was dropped before trial after the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.[16]

Filmography

Film

Title Year Role Notes
The Green Beret 1992 Director
Wormholes 1992 Director
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2004 Parrot (voice)
  • Director
  • Writer
  • Producer
Hollywood Blvd., USA 2013
  • Director
  • Producer
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water 2015 Baby in Stroller (voice)
  • Executive producer
  • Story writer

Television

Title Year Role Notes
Rocko's Modern Life 1993–96
  • Creative director
  • Director
  • Executive story editor
  • Storyboard director
  • Producer
  • Writer
SpongeBob SquarePants 1999–
  • Miner
  • Potty the Parrot (voice)
  • Creator
  • Executive producer
  • Showrunner
  • Storyboard director
  • Writer
Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants 2009 Himself

Awards

In 1992, one of Hillenburg's early works, Wormholes, won at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for Best Concept.[37] For SpongeBob SquarePants, Hillenburg has been nominated for 17 Emmy Awards, winning in the categories of Outstanding Special Class Animated Program and Outstanding Sound Editing – Animation in 2010 and 2014, respectively. His show has also received several other awards and nominations, including 17 Annie Award nominations, winning six times, as well as winning two British Academy Children's Awards, out of four nominations. In 2002, SpongeBob SquarePants won its first TCA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming nomination.

In 2001, Heal the Bay, an environmental nonprofit organization, honored Hillenburg with its Walk the Talk award.[4][103] He was recognized for raising awareness of marine life among the public[4] through SpongeBob SquarePants.[103] In 2002, the National Cartoonists Society bestowed upon Hillenburg the Television Animation Award.[4][104] That same year, he also received the Statue Award in film from the Princess Grace Foundation.[4][34]

References

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Works cited

External links