Friday, November 30, 2018

‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dies at 57


Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the beloved Nickelodeon animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, died on Monday, November 26. He was 57.

The cause of death was ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease), which Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with in March of last year, saying in a statement at the time that he would continue to work on the animated series, “for a long as I am able.”

Remembering Stephen Hillenburg: The Genius Behind SpongeBob SquarePants | Nick



Remembering the creative mastermind behind SpongeBob SquarePants Stephen Hillenburg.

“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS,” he said at the time. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on 'SpongeBob SquarePants' and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support."

ALS is a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It progressively kills the neurons that control muscles, eventually leading to paralysis. The fight for a cure came into the spotlight in 2014 with the ice bucket challenge, which raised more than $100 million. Scientists are still racing to find a cure.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement on Tuesday. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

As a child with a passion for art, Hillenburg also became fascinated with the ocean after watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries on television.

In a 2012 Nerdist podcast interview, he recalled going diving for the first time and discovering the underwater world didn't resemble the black-and-white pictures he had seen.

"It just was a shock for me," he recalled, "and I was riveted by that experience."

The two-time Emmy winner graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources. He then became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California. This interest, combined with his artistic talent and love of the sea and its creatures, led him to create and write The Intertidal Zone, a science lesson in comic book form designed to keep the young students engaged.

That comic book about the briny denizens of a tide-pool would become the early foundation of Bikini Bottom, the vivid community where SpongeBob SquarePants shares with friends like Squidward, Patrick, Sandy, Pearl, Mr. Krabs, and Plankton. The characters from the illustrated teaching tools would later become the denizens of SpongeBob’s home, Bikini Bottom.


Stephen Hillenburg directs Patrick and SpongeBob in a scene from the animated motion picture "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." Photo: David Strick, Paramount Pictures

"Obviously, SpongeBob is a comedy, but it really was inspired by me liking marine science," he said in a 2015 interview. "I focused on that, and I never thought the two would come together."

He began his animation career in 1987, pursuing a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia and earning his Master of Fine Arts in 1992.

That same year he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short Wormholes, which went on to be shown at various international animation festivals. From 1993 to 1996 he would pursue work in television as a director and writer on Nickelodeon series Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats.


Wormholes [Stephen Hillenburg]

Martin Olson, a writer on Rocko's Modern Life, admired a comic book that Hillenburg had drawn and written about tide pools. "It got me thinking, 'If I were to do a show, it would be about these invertebrates and these crazy animals that exist in the ocean,'" Hillenburg recalled. "It was that moment that said, 'Maybe I should pursue this.'"

"I decided, 'OK, if I'm doing it about one character, what's the kind of character that I like? First of all, what's the weirdest character? What's the weirdest animal?' The sponge came to mind," he told the Nerdist podcast.

From there, he began to work full-time on writing producing, and directing on the animated series that would eventually become SpongeBob SquarePants. The first episode aired on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999 and the series commenced its full run on July 17 of that year. By its second season it was a runaway hit with youngsters as well as cult sensation with college-aged audiences, who even organized viewing parties for the show. The series has aired nearly 250 episodes to date.

Hillenburg was the showrunner and executive producer from 1999 to 2004. The show took a hiatus in 2002 so the SpongeBob team could turn their attention to an ambitious undertaking — transplanting the highest rated show in Nickelodeon’s history to movie theaters.

The series has won both U.S. and British Emmy Awards - some of the highest television awards in U.S. and U.K., Annie Awards, and ASACP Awards and has been dubbed or sub-titled in more than 60 languages, including Urdu, Azerbaijani and Maori.

Earlier this year, he was honored with a special Emmy “for his contribution and impact made in the animation field and within the broadcast industry”.


“SpongeBob’s vocal cords might be mine,” he said. “But SpongeBob’s playful spirit of gentle anarchy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly, directly, 100 percent from my good buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg.”

In February at the Annie Awards in Los Angeles, Hillenburg was among those given a Winsor McCay honor for his career contributions to animation. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, made the stage presentation and accepted the award on Hillenburg's behalf as he remained seated to receive a standing ovation.

Hillenburg also wrote, produced, and directed The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was released in 2004 and went on to gross over $140 million worldwide. Hillenburg then wrote the story for and was the executive producer of the sequel, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, in 2015. A third film, "It’s a Wonderful Sponge", is due to be released in August 2020. Additionally, the character found life on the stage in the Tony-winning SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, which, by the time of its Sept. 16, 2018 closing, it had played 29 previews and 327 regular performances. The musical is set to tour North America from Fall 2019.

Hillenburg had envisioned the first film as the swan song for Bikini Bottom, a big-screen finale that would save the show from “jumping the shark,” as he put it. The Nickelodeon appetite for the brand was too strong to let it be left on a shelf, however, so Hillenburg decided it was time to leave his animated eco-system in the hands of others.

“It reached a point where I felt I’d contributed a lot and said what I wanted to say,” Hillenburg later explained to the Washington Post. 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.”

Hillenburg’s signature creation is a whole empire unto itself: Comics, toys, clothes, and much more. It’s one of the most watched children’s shows of all time.

In May of last year, SpongeBob was renewed through a 12th season, set to premiere in 2019.

“I thought we’d get four seasons, but it’s still going,” he told the Guardian in 2016. I see SpongeBob on ice-cream trucks a lot and I’ve got bootleg SpongeBob merchandise from Mexico. In Egypt, they even wear hijabs with SpongeBob on them.”

"The fact that it's undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture," Hillenburg told The Associated Press in 2001. "The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging."

Hillenburg also was an early voice actor for Potty the Parrot and played the ukulele for some of the show's original music.

Though Hillenburg had no direct involvement in writing the musical – Kyle Jarrow wrote the book and Tom Kitt’s original music was combined with songs from David Bowie, John Legend, The Flaming Lips, Sara Bareilles, among many others – the spirit of the animated series flowed through the production from beginning to end.

The cast did not perform in costumes mimicking the cartoon, but rather in garb suggesting character: Ethan Slater’s SpongeBob, for example, wore rolled-up plaid pants, a yellow shirt and a red tie, letting his skyrocket enthusiasm do what no mask could.

So full of the animated series’ energy – childlike but knowing, sweet but not sticky – the musical captured the attention of Broadway producers and New York theater owners during a 2016 Chicago run. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical began previews at New York’s Palace Theatre on November 6, 2017, and opened on December 4, 2017. The musical was awarded with 12 Tony nominations, and won one.

Hillenburg — or Steve as he was known to family, friends, and fans — was born August 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. After leaving the military, his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg, Jr., became a draftsman and designer for aerospace companies. His mother Nancy taught visually impaired students.

He has been described by colleagues as "a perfectionist workaholic" and once revealed why he didn't love the spotlight.

"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," he said.

He is survived by his wife of 20 years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel.

In 2017, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA (PGF-USA) announced the Stephen Hillenburg Animation Award. Karen and Stephen Hillenburg endowed the Foundation with the gift, which will encourage and assist future animators to develop and hone their crafts. Stephen himself received his Princess Grace Award in 1991 and a Statue Award in 2002. He is the first Princess Grace Award winner to honor the Foundation with the gift of such a scholarship.

Earlier this year, Hillenburg furthered his contribution to the marine sciences through an endowment designed to support student research. Created by Hillenburg and his wife Karen with a $135,000 gift, the Stephen Hillenburg Marine Science Research Award Endowment at Humboldt State University (HSU) will provide grant awards for student research projects in marine biology, oceanography, and marine fisheries.

Nickelodeon will be observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work today, Tuesday, November 27. 💛

R.I.P. Stephen Hillenburg. August 21, 1961 - November 26, 2018


Both the ALS Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association have information on how to support those diagnosed and their families, as well as ways to donate to research efforts and related causes.

Following the tragic news of Stephen's untimely death, SpongeBob fans have been taking to social media to pay tribute to the legend, thanking him for his creation, which "enriched lives" and "stirred up laughter for years to come":

Stephen Hillenburg Tribute | Butch Hartman



Remembering Stephen Hillenburg...

Spongebob Changed My Life | Stephen Hillenburg Tribute | KMACK TIME



Stephen Hillenburg changed my life for the better. Spongebob has brightened many dark days for me since I was a kid. Thank you so much for everything and RIP.





























































From the Viacom Newsroom:

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS CREATOR STEPHEN HILLENBURG DIES

Hillenburg turned his love of animation and marine biology into a cultural icon.


Stephen Hillenburg, the marine biologist-turned-creator of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, died Monday from ALS. He was 57.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement on Tuesday. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family.

“Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”


“I think we all thought the show would be good, but I didn't ever assume it would catch on in a mass audience sort of way.” - Stephen Hillenburg, SpongeBob SquarePants Creator

Hillenburg, who graduated college with a degree in natural science and worked at the Orange County Marine Institute, wasn’t a likely candidate for pop culture fame. But he had a longtime love of drawing and incorporated it into his work as a marine biologist. SpongeBob’s characters were born during his time at the Marine Institute, where he created The Intertidal Zone, an educational comic book about tide pools that included a talking sponge, one of many illustrations that would become the characters and scenery in Bikini Bottom.

“I was into Jacques Cousteau as a kid and started scuba-diving around 14, which blew my mind,” Hillenburg told The Guardian in 2016. “It was all colour, another world. I studied natural resources planning and thought I could get a job at some marine park. But I was great at art and so-so at marine biology. It’s funny how the two eventually came together.”

Hillenburg left his job at the Marine Institute to study experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts. Shortly after receiving his master’s degree in 1992, he joined the staff of Rocko’s Modern Life at Nickelodeon.


Once he pitched the concept for SpongeBob, the first episode aired in 1999. He didn’t expect it to gain a cult following. ”I think we all thought the show would be good, but I didn’t ever assume it would catch on in a mass audience sort of way,” he told The New York Times in 2001. ”That’s unexpected, and we’re flattered and relieved.”Since then, two SpongeBob movies, a Broadway musical, fashion collaborations with Vans and Moschino, countless consumer products and Emmy nods have helped the talking sponge grow into a global brand. The series has also made its way into meme culture, threading social media with SpongeBob-related jokes.


Hillenburg and producer Sherry Lansing attend the film premiere of 'The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie' at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 2004 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

A long list of celebrity fans made cameos on the animated program, including Mark Hamill, Johnny Depp, Amy Poehler, LeBron James, Gene Simmons, Will Ferrell, Robin Williams and Tina Fey. Before his death, David Bowie — who did a cameo in 2007 — gave his blessing to feature his music in the Broadway musical.


Hillenburg and wife Karen Hillenburg attend the 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Broadway opening night at Palace Theatre on December 4, 2017 (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical debuted in Chicago in 2016 and landed on Broadway in 2017. The show earned a Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.


'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water' World Premiere on January 31, 2015. (Photo by Monica Schipper/FilmMagic)

“I knew the show as in, how could one not know the show, but I was not a committed watcher or fan,” says Tina Landau, director of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. “When I first got asked about the project I initially passed. When I started researching and watching episodes and read interviews with Steve I did a 180. I found it to be so witty and sophisticated and post-modern.”


'The SpongeBob SquarePants' Preview at Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2006. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

But what surprised her most were the fans.

“When we opened the show in Chicago we were surprised by the adults’ reactions,” says Landau. “Our biggest most ardent fan base are these people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. People who watched it at a certain age and have continued loving it. I forgot how deeply he permeates all aspects of our culture. Movies. TV. The cereal box in the grocery store.”


The opening night of Nickelodeon's 'SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical' at Ziegfeld Ballroom. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

Hillenburg announced his diagnosis last March saying, “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able.”

###

Also from the Viacom Newsroom:

STEPHEN HILLENBURG REMEMBERED FOR INFLUENCING POP CULTURE WITH ‘SPONGEBOB’

Peers, celebrities fondly remember the ‘SpongeBob’ creator, who died Monday.


Stephen Hillenburg, who died Monday from ALS at age 57, was remembered for “changing the face of TV” by Rocko’s Modern Life creator Joe Murray and Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman.

While Hillenburg may be best-known for SpongeBob SquarePants, his career at Nickelodeon began with “Rocko’s Modern Life” in 1993, after Murray approached him in the lobby of Ottawa Film Festival in 1992 following a viewing of Hillenburg’s film Wormholes.


Hillenburg and actor Tom Kenny attend the 45th Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2018. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

“[I] told him about this show I was doing for Nickelodeon called ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ and asked if he would be interested in working on it,” Murray says in an essay for Variety. “I was already in awe of his talent, and the two of us, neither having worked in television, thought it would be funny to see what kind of havoc we could bring to the medium.”

He recalled staying up late working on Rocko’s and shared that when Hillenburg showed him the pitch for SpongeBob, he thought it was a “fantastic choice” to merge his love for oceanography with his talent for cartoons.

“Little did I know that, with SpongeBob, he would change the face of television forever,” Murray says in Variety.

Walt Disney, Stan Lee, and Steve Hillenburg.

Butch Hartman, the creator of Fairly OddParents and Danny Phantom, told Viacom on Wednesday that he agrees with that statement.


The iconic characters SpongeBob and Patrick in a still from the Nickelodeon series.

“[He took] the character of SpongeBob and injected it with a giant needle into pop culture. SpongeBob spread like a cartoon virus through pop culture, but I mean it in a good way,” Hartman says. “It took everybody by surprise and I think it took Steve by surprise too with just how big of a hit it was.”

Hartman says he and Hillenburg came up at Nickelodeon around the same time in the late ‘90s and that the two worked in the same building, though on different shows, for 20 years.

“I don’t think his impact can be measured by any normal standard. Very few people have ever created a character that iconic, that well-respected and that well-known,” he says. “I think there’s Walt Disney, Stan Lee, and Steve Hillenburg.”

While still in shock at Hillenburg’s passing, Hartman reflected on the creator’s legacy and says he hoped that he knew how many lives he touched with his famous yellow friend.

“I hope he knew how many people loved him and respected him and how much he impacted pop culture for the better,” Hartman says.

A vibrant, colorful, music-filled world.

Tom Kenny, the voice behind SpongeBob, in April praised Hillenburg for his creation while accepting a Creative Arts Emmy for voicing the character.


Hillenburg at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2006. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

“SpongeBob’s vocal cords might be mine, but SpongeBob’s playful spirit of gentle energy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly—directly—100 percent from my good buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg,” Kenny said.

The 56-year-old voice actor recalled Hillenburg pitching him the series in 1997 and said he “fell in love immediately.”

“It seems like some other people did too,” Kenny added.

From Busy Philipps to Beck to Barack Obama

After news of Hillenburg’s death broke on Tuesday, thousands of fans and celebrities took to social media to thank the talented creator for the series that had such an impact on their lives.

Actress Busy Philipps took to Twitter to share the impact Hillenburg had on her family and 5-year-old daughter, Cricket.

“SpongeBob has brought my little one Cricket so much joy and given her the weirdest & wildest sense of humor,” she wrote. “Thank you Mr. Hillenburg and rest in peace.”

Singer Beck paid tribute to Hillenburg on Facebook on Tuesday, saying the two used to be neighbors and the SpongeBob creator did the artwork for his first EP.

“Very sad to hear the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenberg, who years and years ago used to be my neighbor and kindly did the artwork for the first music that I ever released,” Beck wrote. “The photo from the Record was shot behind his apartment. Better known as the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, I always remembered him as a genuinely sweet guy. I was lucky to get to run into him by chance at the airport a few months ago.”

David Hasselhoff, who voiced a lifeguard in Paramount Pictures’ 2004 “SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” said he is still stopped by people who recognize him from film.

“Wow what a unique and fantastic character Steve created!” Hasselhoff wrote. “It was my pleasure and honor to be in SpongeBob The Movie and to share some great laughs with this gentleman, Shocking Loss!”

His mark on entertainment will endure, and his contribution to this world will always be felt.

Hasselhoff wasn’t the only big name to give voice to a “SpongeBob” character, dozens of celebrities made cameos on the series, including David Bowie, Will Ferrell, Johnny Depp, Mark Hamill, Tina Fey, Betty White and Robin Williams.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama even expressed his love for the effervescent sponge, saying at a rally in Michigan that he always “had a soft spot” for the character.


“SpongeBob SquarePants” first aired on Nickelodeon in 1999 and is now in its 11th season. It has since expanded into two films, with a third due out via Paramount in 2020. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical landed on Broadway in 2017, nabbing a Tony award and multiple Emmy nominations.

Director of the Broadway show, Tina Landau, thanked Hillenburg for making her a part of Bikini Bottom.

“This man dreamt & drew & wrote & gave to us: SpongeBob (& so much more.),” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you, Steve, for your spirit, your creation &, personally, for inviting me to Bikini Bottom.”

Hillenburg told the New York Times in 2001 that he never imagined the series would have such a cult following — or catch on to a mass audience.

“His mark on entertainment will endure, and his contribution to this world will always be felt,” Murray says. “I feel honored to have worked side by side with him, and anyone who knew him or was entertained by his work should be forever grateful. I know I am.”

###

From Variety:

‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ Creator: Stephen Hillenburg ‘Changed the Face of TV Forever’
By JOE MURRAY

Joe Murray, the creator of Nickelodeon series “Rocko’s Modern Life,” remembers “SpongeBob Squarepants” creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died on Monday at the age of 57.

[Click here for video]

I first met Steve through the big screen at the Ottawa Film Festival in 1992. His film “Wormholes” was in competition and, after watching it, I immediately knew we would get along well. I approached him in the lobby and told him about this show I was doing for Nickelodeon called “Rocko’s Modern Life” and asked if he would be interested in working on it. I was already in awe of his talent, and the two of us, neither having worked in television, thought it would be funny to see what kind of havoc we could bring to the medium.

Little did I know that, with SpongeBob, he would change the face of television forever.

His work on my show was top-notch. I’ll never forget staying up late, working out the kinks of episode after episode together, or him crying from laughter while playing a tape of burp-talking he wanted to use to make an episode. It was obvious that someone in entertainment would have snatched him up quickly, had I not have been lucky to have gotten to him first. I remember an executive at Nickelodeon wondering if he was even right for television. He wasn’t. He was right for new television. Always striving for something better, fresher, different. He was passionate, brilliant, and tireless.

When “Rocko” ended, he showed me a pitch for a series he was working on called “Spongeboy.” I thought it was fantastic choice to delve into his undersea creatures, because it married his love for and education in oceanography with his extreme talent for cartoons. “Spongebob Squarepants” got picked up and after two seasons was well on its way to superstardom. I loved the fact that he insisted on producing a limited number of episodes at a time, choosing not to overlap seasons, which is the norm in animation because of the length of production time. He loved quality and respected his audience. That’s what made his episodes on “Rocko” and “SpongeBob” so great.

Steve was a great friend, and wonderful husband and father. Our children played together, and dinner at the Hillenburg’s was filled with great conversation and wonderful food prepared by his wife, Karen. He was generous, honest, and funny. Upon meeting him, nobody would ever sense any air of ego, despite being in the presence of a legend, a game changer. He and Karen were also philanthropists, widely recognized for their generosity and commitment.

Sometimes he was just Steve the surfer. And that Steve was just as memorable.

In recent years, we were not as in touch as we used to be, but I still knew he was a friend. I barged in on a “SpongeBob” writers meeting last year, while working on a “Rocko” special at Nickelodeon, and said hi. We hugged and vowed to get lunch. But we were both busy and that lunch never happened. He faced his illness with as much strength and class as everything else he did. And although we saw the end coming, it came too soon.

His mark on entertainment will endure, and his contribution to this world will always be felt. I feel honored to have worked side by side with him, and anyone who knew him or was entertained by his work should be forever grateful.

I know I am.

###

From npr:

Stephen Hillenburg, Creator Of 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' Has Died At 57

Stephen Hillenburg, who created SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at 57. Inhabited by a good-natured pineapple-dwelling yellow sponge and a motley crew of sea creatures, the Nickelodeon TV program gained huge popularity with both children and adults over its nearly 20-year run.

Nickelodeon said Tuesday that Hillenburg died of ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

"Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere," Nickelodeon said in a statement. "His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination."

The underwater world of Bikini Bottom, where the action takes place, reflects Hillenburg's deep interest in marine life. SpongeBob is surrounded by a starfish, an octopus, a crab and a pufferfish, to name a few.

Hillenburg, who is originally from Oklahoma, started his career teaching marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point, Calif. He later switched gears to focus on animation, earning a degree at the California Institute of the Arts and working on Nickelodeon series Rocko's Modern Life for about four years in the mid-1990s.

It was at Nickelodeon that his interests in marine biology and animation combined to create SpongeBob SquarePants.

In a 2015 interview with the channel, Hillenburg said a writer from Rocko's Modern Life spotted his comic drawings of ocean creatures.

"It started me thinking, if I'm going to do a show, I would do it about these invertebrates and these crazy animals that exist in the ocean, and it would be the perfect fusion of the things that I did," he said. "It was that moment where I said, maybe I should pursue this, you know, go down this path."

The show was not initially viewed as an inevitable hit. On its 10-year anniversary in 2009, Brown Johnson, then the vice president of animation for Nickelodeon, told NPR's Elizabeth Blair about some early conversations at the channel.

"Certain parts of the business at Nickelodeon were like, 'Oh no. It'll never be successful. It's about a sponge. What's that? It's yellow. That's a bad color,' " she said.

Now, the show has been on since 1999. It's spawned two movies – 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and 2015's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water – and a Broadway show.

And it has profound global reach. According to Nickelodeon, it's been translated into more than 60 languages. Images of the smiling yellow sponge are seen around the world.

In a 2004 interview with Fresh Air, Tom Kenny, the longtime voice of SpongeBob, describes Hillenburg's dynamic style in the studio.

"Hillenburg definitely is the big kahuna and, a lot of times, just has every vocal nuance and eye blink and twitch mapped out to the nanosecond in his mind. And then other times, he'll just take you off the leash and go, `You know, I don't know where this is going. Just take it where it feels funny,' " said Kenny.

As he put it, some days working on the show was like doing math – other days, jazz.

Earlier this year, Kenny paid tribute to Hillenburg while presenting him with an award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. He lauded the wide and enduring appeal of the show: "I fell in love immediately and it seems like some other people did too."

###

Also, from the Associated Press via ABC News:

SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg dies of Lou Gehrig's disease aged 57

The creator of SpongeBob SquarePants and the absurd undersea world he inhabited, Stephen Hillenburg, has died at the age of 57, Nickelodeon has announced.

Hillenburg died on Monday of Lou Gehrig's disease, a motor neurone disease [MND] also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the cable network said in a statement.

Hillenburg had announced he had the disease in March 2017.

An Oklahoma native with a love of both drawing and marine biology, Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and went on to spawn hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.

"He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family," Nickelodeon's statement said.

"Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humour and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere.

"His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination."

'An innocent in a world of jaded characters'

The absurdly jolly SpongeBob, his starfish sidekick Patrick, and a vast cast of oceanic creatures quickly appealed to university students and parents as much as it did to children.

"The fact that it's undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture," Hillenburg said in 2001.

"The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging."

Born at his father's army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in California in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning with an emphasis on marine resources, and went on to teach marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute.

He then shifted to drawing and earned a master of fine arts degree in animation from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992.

That same year he created an animated short called Wormholes that won festival plaudits and helped land him a job on the Nickelodeon show Rocko's Modern Life.

He worked there from 1993 to 1996 before he began to build Spongebob's undersea world of Bikini Bottom, which showed off his knowledge of marine life and willingness to throw all the details out the window.

"We know that fish don't walk, and that there is no organised community with roads, where cars are really boats," he said.

"And if you know much about sponges, you know that living sponges aren't square."

The show was an immediate hit that has lost no momentum in the nearly 20 years since its creation.

Its nearly-250 episodes have won four Emmys and 15 Kids Choice Awards, and led to an endless line of merchandise to rival any other pop cultural phenomenon of the 2000s.

'A truly generous and kind person'

In 2004, the show shifted to the big screen with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and a 2015 sequel, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

A musical stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 2017, with music from such stars as Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles and John Legend.

It earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including one for best performance by a leading actor for Ethan Slater.

"I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg," Slater said in an email.

"Through working on SpongeBob, I got to know him not only as a creative genius, but as a truly generous and kind person.

"He warmly embraced us on Broadway as the newest members of his wonderful Spongebob family, and made it so clear from the get-go why he is so beloved: genuine kindness."

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg, and a brother, Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

###

Also, from the Associated Press via The Mainichi:

'SpongeBob' creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Stephen Hillenburg, who used his dual loves of drawing and marine biology to spawn the absurd undersea world of "SpongeBob SquarePants," has died, Nickelodeon announced Tuesday.

Hillenburg died Monday of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, the cable network said in a statement. He was 57.

He had announced he had the disease in March 2017. His death comes just weeks after the passing of another cartoon hero in Marvel creator Stan Lee.

Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and bloomed into hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.

The absurdly jolly SpongeBob and his yell-along theme song that opened "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?!" quickly appealed to college kids and parents as much as it did kids.

"The fact that it's undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture," Hillenburg told The Associated Press in 2001. "The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging."

Its vast cast of oceanic creatures included SpongeBob's starfish sidekick Patrick, his tightwad boss Mr. Krabs, squirrel pal Sandy Cheeks and always-exasperated neighbor Squidward Tentacles.

While Hillenburg introduced and popularized exotic creatures like the sea sponge (which in the real world is not square,) Bikini Bottom was a realm like no other, real or fictional. SpongeBob can play his nose like a flute and could not possibly be happier to work his fast-seafood job of flipping Krabby Patties.

But he has his troubles, too. He constantly fails his boat-driving test, forcing his frightened blowfish teacher to inflate. In one episode he suffers a broken butt and is afraid to leave his pineapple home for days.

"I don't want to face my fears," SpongeBob, voiced by Tom Kenny, says in another episode. "I'm afraid of them!"

Born at his father's army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in California in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning with an emphasis on marine resources, and went on to teach marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute.

While there he drew a comic, "The Intertidal Zone," that he used as a teaching tool. It featured anthropomorphic ocean creatures that were precursors to the characters on "SpongeBob."

Hillenburg shifted to drawing and earned a master of fine arts degree in animation from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992.

That same year he created an animated short called "Wormholes" that won festival plaudits and helped land him a job on the Nickelodeon show "Rocko's Modern Life," where he worked from 1993 to 1996 before he began to build SpongeBob's undersea world of Bikini Bottom, which showed off his knowledge of marine life and willingness to throw all the details out the window.

"We know that fish don't walk," he told the AP, "and that there is no organized community with roads, where cars are really boats. And if you know much about sponges, you know that living sponges aren't square."

The show was an immediate hit that has lost no momentum in the nearly 20 years since its creation and helped define the culture of Nickelodeon.

"He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family," Nickelodeon's statement said. "His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination."

Its nearly 250 episodes have won four Emmy Awards and 15 Kids' Choice Awards, and led to an endless line of merchandise to rival any other pop cultural phenomenon of the 2000s.

"When you set out to do a show about a sponge, you can't anticipate this kind of craze," Hillenburg told the AP in 2002.

In 2004, the show shifted to the big screen with "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" and a 2015 sequel, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water."

Intensely involved in every aspect of the show initially, Hillenburg after the 2004 film stepped back into an executive producer role on the show, where he remained for the rest of his life.

A musical stage adaptation bowed on Broadway in 2017, with music from such stars as Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles and John Legend. It earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including one for best performance by a leading actor for Ethan Slater.

"I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg," Slater said in an email Tuesday. "Through working on 'SpongeBob,' I got to know him not only as a creative genius, but as a truly generous and kind person. He warmly embraced us on Broadway as the newest members of his wonderful 'SpongeBob' family, and made it so clear from the get-go why he is so beloved: genuine kindness."

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg, and a brother, Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

###

Also, from The Morning Call:

Appreciation: 'SpongeBob' creator Stephen Hillenburg created 'nautical nonsense' around an innocent hero

mid the deep divisive rifts and political eddies over the environment, the planet's most famous marine cartoonist saw the ocean as a force for bringing us together.

For two decades, Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon's animated phenomenon "SpongeBob SquarePants," made viewers in more than 170 countries laugh at themselves, thanks to the show's ability to plumb our common foibles — the human condition as reflected through a starfish, a crab, megalomaniacal plankton and the globe's most wide-eyed sea sponge.

"Everybody recognizes the childlike character," Hillenburg told me in 2009 about the title character of SpongeBob, upon the show's 10th anniversary. The innocent, in a swirl of physical comedy, he said, is "universally understood."

And perhaps it is that common element of illuminating laughter that will stand as the ultimate unifying legacy of Hillenburg, who died Monday of ALS at age 57. He wanted us to care about the undercurrents that bind us.

"People have to get together and (realize) how important our oceans are," said Hillenburg, who stayed on with the show after announcing his ALS in March 2017. "One thing I'm hoping (will) come out of (a 'SpongeBob') documentary is the realization that the show came from something that's precious and that we need to appreciate it. It takes care of us."

"Hopefully, if you watch 'SpongeBob,' " Hillenburg added, you'll want to "take care of our oceans."

"Steve imbued 'SpongeBob SquarePants' with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere," Nickelodeon said in a statement, adding that his Bikini Bottom characters will stand as a "reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination."

It took a fair amount of imagination for Hillenburg even to envision a career in animation. Born in Oklahoma to a teacher and a draftsman, he headed to the Bay Area's Humboldt State to study marine resources, before becoming a marine biology teacher at what is now the Ocean Institute in California. Yet his interest in drawing still beckoned like a call to the sea.

"Honestly, I hadn't looked into the logistics and income. I just knew that's what I wanted to do," Hillenburg told me. "I thought, at least, I could get a job cleaning up somebody's drawings. ... Then, there was 'The Simpsons' and 'Ren & Stimpy' - everyone was excited about the rebirth of the form" in the '90s.

Hillenburg received a degree in experimental animation from Cal Arts, then got his MFA in 1992, fully prepared to be a starving artist as he took out loans to make a film.

SpongeBob SquarePants and Gary in 'The SpongeBob Movie.' (Paramount Pictures Animation /)
As luck and pluck would have it, though, Joe Murray, the creator of Nickelodeon's "Rocko's Modern Life," saw the young animator's work and "took a huge chance," Hillenburg said. "I didn't know how to storyboard — I still don't. It was like perfect timing."

On "Rocko," Hillenburg would meet the gifted gullet of Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, and build the skills to create his own world of pineapple houses and Krabby Patty recipes. The allure of the most universal of comedy — silent films — propelled him still.

"I think 'SpongeBob' is born out of my love of Laurel and Hardy shorts," he said during our phone interview. "You've got that kind of idiot-buddy situation — that was a huge influence. SpongeBob was inspired by that kind of character ... a la Stan Laurel."

What Hillenburg really built, however, was a world of clear character types in conflict — often roiling into high-pitched drama.

Yet the power of friendship has always served as the show's anchored message. Whether SpongeBob's kinetic excitability and youthful absence of guile were driving a greedy boss or a driving instructor or a tiny villain or a nerve-frayed neighbor crazy, it was his sweetness and love that remained forever buoyant.

"SpongeBob is a complete innocent — not an idiot. SpongeBob never fully realizes how stupid Patrick is," Hillenburg said of his "absorbent and yellow and porous" creation and his slow-witted best friend. "They're whipping themselves up into situations - that's always where the humor comes from."

Ultimately, though, he said: "The rule is: Follow the innocence."

Amid our hot political climate, sometimes such warmth is needed to open our hearts.

Thank you, Mr. Hillenburg. May your "nautical nonsense" long make us laugh as we cherish who lives under the sea.

###

From NPR:

'SpongeBob SquarePants' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dies At 57

Stephen Hillenburg died on Monday at 57. He created the wildly popular SpongeBob SquarePants for Nickelodeon, that appealed to kids and young adults alike.



Transcript:

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now a moment to remember the creator of Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants." Stephen Hillenburg died yesterday of ALS at age 57. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this look at his work.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS")

TOM KENNY: (As Patchy the Pirate) Are you ready kids?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Aye, aye, Captain.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: You could have watched "SpongeBob SquarePants" as a kid from your living room during snack time or from your dorm room with the munchies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS")

KENNY: (As Patchy the Pirate, singing) Oh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) SpongeBob SquarePants.

LIMBONG: SpongeBob SquarePants is loud, innocent and excited about life. But he also feels the pressures of adulthood - holding down a job, learning how to drive.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS")

MARY JO CATLETT: (As Mrs. Puff) OK, now, what do you do next?

KENNY: (As SpongeBob SquarePants) Floor it?

CATLETT: (As Mrs. Puff) Yes - no. Don't floor it.

KENNY: (As SpongeBob SquarePants) OK, floor it.

CATLETT: (As Mrs. Puff) No.

LIMBONG: Stephen Hillenburg created SpongeBob after teaching marine biology in California. Then he attended the California Institute of the Arts. In a Nickelodeon promo video, he said he was encouraged when another writer saw some comics he'd made about the actual underwater world.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICKELODEON PROMO VIDEO)

STEPHEN HILLENBURG: It's basically to teach about tide pools. It was that moment where I said, maybe I should pursue this.

LIMBONG: Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, told WHYY's Fresh Air in 2004 what shooting the pilot was like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KENNY: Steve Hillenburg actually brought a tank of helium into the studio. And all of us voice actors just (imitates sucking air) sucked (imitating SpongeBob SquarePants) on it - aye - aye - aye - aye.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: (Laughter).

KENNY: And it was - it was - that was the pilot. So I said, boy, if this thing goes, we are going to have a lot of fun.

LIMBONG: After Hillenburg announced he had ALS, he received a Creative Arts Emmy for his contribution and impact in animation. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) SpongeBob SquarePants.

KENNY: (As Patchy the Pirate, singing) If nautical nonsense be something you wish...

###

From Newsweek:

WHO VOICES SPONGEBOB? WHAT TOM KENNY SAID ABOUT STEPHEN HILLENBURG BEFORE HE DIED

The death of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon's hit series Spongebob Squarepants, has hit hard for many. Stars such as David Hasselhoff and Busy Phillips took the opportunity to remember his legacy Tuesday after he died from ALS. Before this, Spongebob voice actor Tom Kenny honored his good friend, Hillenburg.

Kenny, 56, is best known for lending his voice to Spongebob Squarepants. He's additionally been the voice behind the Ice King in Adventure Time, the narrator and the Mayor for The Powerpuff Girls, Rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh (2011) film and Dog in CatDog. He's also voice acted in live-action films, including Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Ant-Man. Through his work in animation, he's earned three Annie Awards. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in April for voicing Spongebob as well.

At the 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in April, Kenny spoke about Hillenburg's impact. At the time, Hillenburg was being honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) for his career-long efforts and influence in the fields of animation and broadcast.

"Sometime in 1997ish, Stephen Hillenburg showed me some drawings he had done for a show that he was thinking about pitching to Nickelodeon about a good-hearted sponge, his dumb sea star friend, a greedy crab boss, a cranky squid neighbor, a teeny tiny enemy and a Texas squirrel that's gone subaquatic," said Kenny. "I know, seen it before, right? I fell in love immediately and it seems like some other people did too."

Kenny continued, "Spongebob Squarepants, now, is seen in 208 countries, translated into 55 languages and is the most widely distributed property in Viacom Media Network history...Spongebob's vocal cords might be mine but Spongebob's playful spirit of gentle energy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly—directly—100 percent from my good buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg."





Hillenberg was an animator, cartoonist and marine biologist. In addition to creating Spongebob Squarepants, he wrote and directed many of the iconic show's episodes as well. His first animation job was as a director on the former Nickelodeon series, Rocko's Modern Life. In March 2017, he revealed his Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to Variety. Hillenberg, who was married to chef Karen Umland, died at 57.

"We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants," Nickelodeon confirmed Tuesday via Twitter. "Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work."

In 2009, Hillenburg spoke about SpongeBob SquarePants with Boston.com in honor of the show's 10-year anniversary. He never anticipated the beloved Nickelodeon series lasting as long as it has.

"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," he said. "By the third season, it felt like [we had] a solid fan base, and the show was kind of clicking on all levels."

###

From Maine Republic:

Cartoonist Whose Summers In Maine Inspired ‘SpongeBob’ Dies At 57

Stephen Hillenburg, the animator whose childhood summers on a Maine island later inspired him to create “SpongeBob Squarepants,” died Monday in California at the age of 57, according to Nickelodeon, the network that runs the show.

The cause of death was ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, according to media reports. Hillenburg revealed his ALS diagnosis in March 2017.

Raised in California, Hillenburg spent summers earlier in his life on Islesford, an island off of Mount Desert Island that is accessible only by boat.

Hillenburg credited his time on the island — the approximate population of which varies from 100 to 400, depending on the time of year — with helping to inspire the ideas and characters that later developed into the multibillion dollar cartoon franchise that has run on Nickelodeon since its inception in 1999.

AdAge reported in 2009, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the show, that SpongeBob retail merchandise licensed by Nickelodeon generated nearly $8 billion a year in revenue for the network.

For a few summers after high school, Hillenburg worked as a fry cook and lobster boiler at the Islesford Dock restaurant. He told a California court in 2008 that the experience “later became the inspiration for the job held by [SpongeBob], who is the fry cook at the ‘Krusty Krab’ fast food restaurant [in the series].”

Hillenburg provided the information after he and Nickelodeon were sued for alleged copyright infringement by another cartoonist who claimed he had invented the SpongeBob character in 1991. The judge subsequently rejected the rival cartoonist’s claims and ruled in favor of Hillenburg and Nickelodeon.

Hillenburg first got the idea for the character in 1989, when he was working as an instructor and staff artist at Orange County Marine Institute, as part of an educational comic he created that featured talking sea creatures.

Five years later, after he had switched careers and was working for Nickelodeon on another animated show, Hillenburg revisited the concept and further developed the character now known as SpongeBob.

“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” Nickelodeon’s statement said. “Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

The absurdly jolly SpongeBob, his starfish sidekick Patrick, and a vast cast of oceanic creatures quickly appealed to college kids and parents as much as it did kids.

“The fact that it’s undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture,” Hillenburg told The Associated Press in 2001. “The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging.”

Born at his father’s army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in California in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning with an emphasis on marine resources. He shifted to drawing and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in animation from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992.

That same year he created an animated short called “Wormholes” that won festival plaudits and helped land him a job on the Nickelodeon show “Rocko’s Modern Life,” where he worked from 1993 to 1996 before he began to build SpongeBob’s undersea world of Bikini Bottom, which showed off his knowledge of marine life and willingness to throw all the details out the window.

“We know that fish don’t walk,” he told the AP, “and that there is no organized community with roads, where cars are really boats. And if you know much about sponges, you know that living sponges aren’t square.”

The show was an immediate hit that has lost no momentum in the nearly 20 years since its creation. Its nearly 250 episodes have won four Emmys and 15 Kids Choice Awards, and led to an endless line of merchandise to rival any other pop cultural phenomenon of the 2000s.

In 2004, the show shifted to the big screen with “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and a 2015 sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.”

A musical stage adaptation bowed on Broadway in 2017, with music from such stars as Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles and John Legend. It earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including one for best performance by a leading actor for Ethan Slater.

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg; son Clay; mother Nancy Hillenburg; and a brother, Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

###

From Gizmodo Australia:

The Creator Of SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg, Has Died

It’s a sad day not just under the sea but everywhere as Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at the age of 57.

The cause of death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.” Hillenburg was diagnosed with the disease back in March of 2017.

Though he worked in animation for almost 20 years, Hillenburg’s biggest creation was the blend of two of his loves, marine biology and animation. Born in 1961, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree focusing on marine resources. A few years later, he began studying experimental animation at California Institute of Arts, earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1992. A year later, he was working for Nickelodeon, writing and directing on shows like Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats. Then, in 1999, he created a world of undersea characters lead by one SpongeBob SquarePants. The rest is history.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement released to Variety. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humour and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

The network also put up the following tweet.


As an artist, you hope and pray to leave some kind of legacy—something that the world will remember you by. Hillenburg did more than that. He created a universe and characters that families will embrace and love for generations.

Both the ALS Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association have information on how to support those diagnosed and their families, as well as ways to donate to research efforts and related causes.

###

From the Santa Clarita Valley Signal:

CalArts alum and ‘SpongeBob’ creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

“SpongeBob Squarepants” creator and CalArts alum Stephen Hillenburg died Tuesday at age 57 after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Hillenburg’s hit show originated in Santa Clarita, where he pursued a career in animation at California Institute of the Arts. He earned a master of fine arts degree in experimental animation in 1992, a departure from his background as a marine biologist and teacher at the Ocean Institute in Orange County.

But that career would later inform the inception of SpongeBob, initially named, “SpongeBoy.”

The iconic yellow sponge was born when Hillenburg began developing a concept for a show on sea creatures in 1996, drawing on characters he created for a comic book about tidepools, “The Intertidal Zone,” while attending school at CalArts, and his own love of the world under the sea.

He pitched the show to Nickelodeon in 1998, and it premiered in July 1999 as a children’s cartoon, eventually spawning two films and a recent Broadway musical.

In a news release, CalArts President Ravi Rajan said Hillenburg and his wife, CalArts trustee Karen, were among the first few people he’d met as part of the CalArts family.

“Steve’s path to CalArts, his experience here, and his journey after, is so representative of our community,” Rajan wrote. “Indeed, he was able to take his passion for making art (he loved painting), as well as for marine biology, and merge them into a creative project that has had a huge impact on society, in the U.S., and internationally.”

Hillenburg’s diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis came in March 2017, but the marine biologist continued to work on the show until his death.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement on Tuesday. “He was a beloved friend and longtime creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family.”

###



###

Also, from VICE:

SpongeBob Made the World a Better, More Optimistic Place

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of one of the most beloved characters of all time, passed away after being diagnosed with ALS last year.

On Monday, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg died after a recent diagnosis with ALS. Nickelodeon confirmed the news on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. What followed was an outpouring of grief for the man behind one of the most recognizable and beloved cartoon characters of all time.

In the 19 years SpongeBob SquarePants has been on the air, it’s become ubiquitous online and in real life, earning over $13 billion in merchandise sales, according to the New York Times. You can’t go near a school without seeing SpongeBob backpacks, you can't go through a Halloween without costumes of the cast parading past your door, you can't go online without being blitzed by SpongeBob memes and reaction GIFs. SpongeBob’s irrational, indefatigable optimism has become a big-eyed beacon of hope to anyone having a bad day, week, or year.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

Though he created one of the most popular franchises of all time, the marine biologist-turned-animation icon was something of a mystery. Hillenburg rarely gave interviews, to the point that the New York Times once called him “animation's Howard Hughes.” He announced his diagnosis with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in a statement to [Variety] in 2017. He spent most of his time with his family, surfing, or working on SpongeBob.

Here's what is known about him and his show: SpongeBob the character can be traced back to Hillenburg’s days teaching at the Orange County Marine Society, where he designed a comic book called The Intertidal Zone to introduce kids to different sea creatures. One of the main characters was called Bob the Sponge, an early ancestor of the square-panted invertebrate who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Hillenburg quit his job to pursue art in 1987, and in 1992 he graduated with an MFA from CalArts’ prestigious experimental animation program (alums include Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Sellick, Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osbourne, Disney legend Glen Keane, and Rugrats producer Paul Demeyer).

He got his start as a director for Rocko’s Modern Life, one of the OG Nicktoons and ground zero for stupid-smart animated shows designed to please both kids and adults. That’s where he met Tom Kenny, the prolific voice of Heffer Wolfe, SpongeBob, and later Ice King on one of SpongeBob’s successors, Adventure Time. A writer for Rocko’s Modern Life encouraged Hillenburg to turn The Intertidal Zone into a series, which eventually grew into the adventures of SpongeBob, Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, Gary the Snail, and the rest.

Through his show, Hilleburg was an evangelist of sorts for the unstoppable power of positive thinking, which he usually dramatized with absurd scenarios. Think of the time SpongeBob sculpts a perfect marble sculpture with a crack of the chisel, or when he wins a fast foodery face-off against the Flying Dutchman—the undead daddy of burger grilling—with the special ingredient of love. SpongeBob tackles everything in life—work, driving school, friendship, pain, lifeguarding, climate change—with a level of zealous breeziness usually reserved zen monks and six-year-old kids.

"The show is about watching an innocent character in this world that he lives in,” Hillenburg told the New York Times while promoting the first SpongeBob film in 2004. “It's saying that the childlike mind is OK. It's saying that dorks can be really important."

His values often spilled into real life, like when he openly dissented with Nickelodeon’s decision to do merchandise collaborations with fast food companies. “In the show, the whole point of the fast food—the fact that SpongeBob loves being part of the fast-food chain, and that being a manager is his ultimate dream: it's ironic,” he told the Times. “We didn't want to suddenly become the people serving up food that's not that good for you—especially kids.”

Hillenburg’s idealism led him to step down as showrunner after the movie. He reportedly originally wanted to end SpongeBob after the third season so that, as storyboard director Sam Henderson put it to Cartoonician, “the show wouldn’t jump the shark.” However, he stayed on as executive producer, reviewing each episode before it aired, and he returned to the show full-time in 2014.

The show's influence can be seen in the current generation of woke, emotion-driven cartoons like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Bojack Horseman. Writer Nick Jennings linked up with Hillenburg on the Rocko’s Modern Life team, then went on to help him create SpongeBob SquarePants before eventually becoming the adult in the room on Adventure Time when Cartoon Network still saw it as a risky gamble. Kent Osborne helped Hillenburg to write the The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie before moving on to the the show, and then helping write on Adventure Time. Now he’s writing on one of its successors, Julia Pott’s Summer Camp Island, a spiritual grandchild of SpongeBob.

More importantly, SpongeBob cemented zany animated television’s place in the mainstream. It outlasted predecessors like Rocko’s Modern Life, contemporary Nicktoons like Doug and Ahh! Real Monsters, and even successors like Adventure Time. (There's a third movie slated for 2020; the show is currently in its 12th season and it's unclear if it'll come back for a 13th.)

Even if you haven't seen an episode, you've likely been exposed to SpongeBob's many, many memes. Every rapper from Lil Yachty to Lil Pump has embraced the sponge. Twitter and Reddit regularly mine episodes—particularly from its golden first three seasons—for highly relatable moments, yielding gems like Evil Patrick Star and Tired SpongeBob. Mr. SquarePants even spent a stint as a Che Guevara-like symbol of revolution for Egyptians protesting Mohamed Morsi. Brand consultant Greg Rowland once compared him to Jesus. His creator is gone, but SpongeBob is going to live in that pineapple for a long, long time to come.

###

From the Los Angeles Times:

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the hit animated Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died Monday after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 57.

“He was a beloved friend and longtime creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” the cartoon network said in a statement Tuesday confirming his death.

“Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the statement added. “His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks, Plankton, Pearl Krabs, Mrs. Puff, Larry the Lobster and the rest of the world of Bikini Bottom premiered in May 1999 and began a full run that July, capturing the imagination of kids young and old off the bat. While youngsters watched with their families, college students went their own way with Saturday-night viewing parties.

Tom Kenny, the actor who voices the show’s titular character, paid tribute to Hillenburg in an acceptance speech at this year’s Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in April.

“SpongeBob's vocal cords might be mine, but SpongeBob's playful spirit of gentle anarchy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly — directly — 100% from my buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg,” Kenny said as Hillenburg stepped onstage to accept the award for outstanding children’s animated program.

The phenomenal success of the show created a huge merchandising opportunity worldwide. But come 2002, after 60 episodes, Hillenburg decided against renewing his Nickelodeon deal.

“I definitely need a break,” Hillenburg told The Times that year, when he was 40 and said he wanted to try something new.

“I think the network wants to make a ‘SpongeBob’ movie,” he said. It was something he wanted as well, but he didn’t want to do it at the same time he was running the TV show. It wasn’t unusual, he said, for an animated series to end around 60 episodes.

The show has gone further than that: It’s now in its 12th season. It has won Emmys in the U.S. and Britain and been translated into more than 60 languages.

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” — written, directed and produced by Hillenburg — came out in 2004, and he wrote and directed SpongeBob video games and shorts. He was also the executive producer of the 2015 sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.” Another film is planned for a 2020 release.

Hillenburg didn’t start out pursuing a creative career in cartooning, though early on he’d been attending animation festivals in the U.S. and Canada.

Born to Kelly and Nancy Hillenburg on Aug. 21, 1961, at an Army base in Oklahoma, he graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a degree that emphasized marine resources, and taught he marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point, now known as the Ocean Institute.

There, he created colorful teaching tools that showed off his love of all things oceanic, writing and illustrating stories that birthed the future residents of Bikini Bottom. He soon found himself pursuing a degree in experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, earning an MFA in 1992.

Hillenburg shortly thereafter found himself working as a writer and director on Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” before moving on full-time to produce and direct the animated series that would become “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (neé Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

###

From The Washington Post:

‘SpongeBob’ creator Stephen Hillenburg raised our spirits — and ocean awareness

AMID THE deep divisive rifts and political eddies over the environment, the planet’s most famous marine cartoonist saw the ocean as a force for bringing us together.

For two decades, Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon’s animated phenomenon “SpongeBob SquarePants,” made viewers in more than 170 countries laugh at themselves, thanks to the show’s ability to plumb our common foibles — the human condition as reflected through a starfish, a crab, megalomaniacal plankton and the globe’s most wide-eyed sea sponge.

“Everybody recognizes the childlike character,” Hillenburg told me in 2009 about the title character of SpongeBob, upon the show’s 10th anniversary. The innocent, in a swirl of physical comedy, he said, is “universally understood.”

And perhaps it is that common element of illuminating laughter that will stand as the ultimate unifying legacy of Hillenburg, who died Monday of ALS at age 57. He wanted us to care about the undercurrents that bind us.

“People have to get together and [realize] how important our oceans are,” said Hillenburg, who stayed on with the show after announcing his ALS in March 2017. “One thing I’m hoping [will] come out of [a ‘SpongeBob’] documentary is the realization that the show came from something that’s precious and that we need to appreciate it. It takes care of us.”

“Hopefully, if you watch ‘SpongeBob,’ “ Hillenburg added, you’ll want to “take care of our oceans.”

“Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” Nickelodeon said in a statement, adding that his Bikini Bottom characters will stand as a “reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

It took a fair amount of imagination for Hillenburg even to envision a career in animation. Born in Oklahoma to a teacher and a draftsman, he headed to Northern California’s Humboldt State University to study marine resources, before becoming a marine biology teacher at what is now the Ocean Institute in California. Yet his interest in drawing still beckoned like a call to the sea.

"Honestly, I hadn’t looked into the logistics and income. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Hillenburg told me. “I thought, at least, I could get a job cleaning up somebody’s drawings. . . . Then there was ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Ren & Stimpy’ — everyone was excited about the rebirth of the form” in the ’90s.

Hillenburg received a degree in experimental animation from California Institute of the Arts, getting his MFA in 1992, fully prepared to be a starving artist as he took out loans to make a film.

As luck and pluck would have it, though, Joe Murray, the creator of Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life,” saw the young animator’s work and “took a huge chance,” Hillenburg said. “I didn’t know how to storyboard — I still don’t. It was like perfect timing.”

On “Rocko,” Hillenburg would meet the gifted gullet of Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, and build the skills to create his own world of pineapple houses and Krabby Patty recipes. The allure of the most universal of comedy — silent films — propelled him still.

"I think ‘SpongeBob’ is born out of my love of Laurel and Hardy shorts,” he said during our phone interview. “You’ve got that kind of idiot-buddy situation — that was a huge influence. SpongeBob was inspired by that kind of character . . . a la Stan Laurel.”

What Hillenburg really built, however, was a world of clear character types in conflict — often roiling into high-pitched drama.

Yet the power of friendship has always served as the show’s anchored message. Whether SpongeBob’s kinetic excitability and youthful absence of guile were driving crazy a greedy boss or a driving instructor or a tiny villain or a nerve-frayed neighbor, it was his sweetness and love that remained forever buoyant.

“SpongeBob is a complete innocent — not an idiot. SpongeBob never fully realizes how stupid Patrick is,” Hillenburg said of his “absorbent and yellow and porous” creation and his slow-witted best friend. “They’re whipping themselves up into situations — that’s always where the humor comes from.”

Ultimately, though, he said: “The rule is: Follow the innocence.”

Amid our hot political climate, sometimes such warmth is needed to open our hearts.

Thank you, Mr. Hillenburg. May your “nautical nonsense” long make us laugh as we cherish who lives under the sea.

###

From The Washington Post:

Mourning Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg: animators and fans pay tribute online

‘A man who put joy and love in the world:' Animators and fans mourn ‘SpongeBob’ creator Stephen Hillenburg

Stephen Hillenburg was a marine biologist when he decided to go back to school and study experimental animation. The gamble worked, and Hillenburg’s legendary creation, the Nickelodeon TV show “SpongeBob SquarePants,” combined his two loves as an animated series about the lives of creatures that live under the sea.

On Tuesday, Nickelodeon announced that Hillenburg died Monday at the age of 57, after suffering from ALS.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” the network said in a statement. “Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

The animator announced a little over a year ago that he had been diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Although the disease progresses at varied rates, ALS is ultimately terminal.

Hillenburg created “SpongeBob SquarePants” after working on Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life.” “SpongeBob” became a massive success, much to Hillenburg’s surprise.

“I figured we might get a season and a cult following and that might be it,” Hillenburg told The Washington Post in 2009, speaking at the 10th anniversary of the “SpongeBob" television run.

Instead, the cartoon became a mainstay for a generation of children and evolved into a persistent cultural touchstone. SpongeBob starred in a 2004 movie written, produced and directed by Hillenburg. The television series has been dubbed or subtitled into more than 60 languages. Recently, “SpongeBob” became a Broadway musical, nominated for 12 Tony Awards.

Fans and fellow animators reacted to news of Hillenburg’s death with stories about the enduring cultural relevance of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“This was a man who put joy and love in the world,” tweeted Chris Nee, the creator of the animated children’s series “Doc McStuffins.”

“A giant of cartoons has left us. A kind, brilliant and hilarious genius who will forever be remembered for his creations,” wrote Jorge R. Gutierrez, an animator and director of the 2014 film “The Book of Life.”

Science-fiction writer John Scalzi tweeted that “SpongeBob and his Bikini Bottom pals are in the common culture now in ways only a few things ever manage.”

Many fans referenced the cultural relevance of the show’s catchy theme song.

“Once in grad school, a friend and I got the SpongeBob song stuck in our heads,” author Celeste Ng tweeted. “My friend got out of the car still singing ‘Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?' and a passing toddler on a tricycle was so excited he yelled out ‘SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS!’ and fell off."






###

From The Washington Post:

SpongeBob’s incredible journey from ‘Bob the Sponge’ in a marine institute’s comic book to global stardom

The most beloved cartoon sponge of a generation spent most of his life in a pineapple under the sea, but he was born in a marine biology institute in Dana Point, Calif., in 1989.

He was just Bob the Sponge then, an actual sea sponge with cool black shades and a shimmering smile. Bob the Sponge had no arms or legs. In his early days, he was only a talking blob, floating in the top corner of a comic book and narrating the shenanigans of an intertidal pool, an ocean habitat home to millions of sea creatures.

“You are about to embark on a journey into one of the most incredible ecosystems on this planet … the Intertidal Zone!” Bob says in the comic’s opening frame.

It was a world created by Stephen Hillenburg, an imaginative marine biologist equipped with a fresh college degree in marine resources and a love for film and illustration. He made the comic book while working as an instructor and staff artist at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point to teach kids about the diversity of the intertidal pools in an entertaining way.


For a time, Hillenburg’s comic book creation existed only inside a pamphlet for kids. But within a decade, Hillenburg would transform it into one of the greatest TV cartoons of the new millennium, trading Bob the Sponge for SpongeBob SquarePants, the Intertidal Zone for Bikini Bottom, and charming millions of kids and adults alike into falling in love with a nerdy, neurotic, obnoxiously good-natured, burger-flipping sponge.

Nearly two decades after “SpongeBob SquarePants” hit Nickelodeon, Hillenburg died Monday of ALS, eliciting an outpouring of tributes from fans who grew up captivated by Hillenburg’s zany underwater community. He was 57.

“Our condolences on the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. Prior to 1999 when the show first aired, he worked as a science instructor at Ocean Institute, where he touched the lives of many students,” the Ocean Institute, formerly the Orange County Marine Institute, said in a statement. “Through his dynamic career he brought laughter to millions.”

In many ways, “SpongeBob” is an amalgam of Hillenburg’s passions and life experiences, stretching back long before he worked at the marine institute in California. He’d always loved the ocean, spending his childhood learning to surf and snorkel and watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” his favorite TV show from the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from high school in Anaheim, Calif., he spent a few summers working as a fry cook and lobster boiler at a restaurant in Maine. The experience would serve as the inspiration for Bikini Bottom’s favorite fast-food restaurant, the Krusty Krab, and its owner, the avaricious Mr. Krabs.

Hillenburg started working at the Orange County Marine Institute in 1986, and soon his boss encouraged him to put his drawing skills to use with the educational comic book. In Hillenburg’s “Intertidal Zone,” Bob the Sponge stars alongside a tuxedo-wearing Rocky the Shrimp, his co-host, as they visit creatures such as a cranky Mr. Barnacle, a hungry lunch-hunting crab and a “beautiful sea anemone” who has a hot date with the shrimp.

“This sponge character in my 1989 comic book, along with the undersea setting of the Intertidal Zone, was the precursor to and served as my inspiration for the SpongeBob SquarePants character and animated series. … I picked the sea sponge because I wanted a funny-looking narrator/announcer and because I liked the versatility of the sponge as an animal,” Hillenburg said in a 2008 declaration, during a copyright lawsuit in which a California cartoonist accused Hillenburg of taking the idea of “SpongeBob” from his 1991 advertisement for a “Bob Spongee” doll. Hillenburg and Nickelodeon prevailed in the case.


Bob the Sponge, left, in Stephen Hillenburg's original “Intertidal Zone” comic book, circa 1989, that would eventually serve as the inspiration for “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (Exhibit in a Northern District of California federal lawsuit, Walker v. Viacom International Inc., et al.) (Screenshot/federal lawsuit)

Hillenburg attempted to sell the comic book to various publishers in 1989. No one was interested.

But it was no problem for Hillenburg, who decided that same year that he wanted to go back to school at the California Institute of the Arts to study experimental animation. The skills he picked up there would eventually land him a job with Nickelodeon, working as a storyboard artist for the children’s series “Rocko’s Modern Life.” That’s where Nickelodeon would first encounter Hillenburg’s undersea comic book.

“One of the guys saw it and said, ‘This should be your own show,’ " Hillenburg told the Guardian in 2016.

So Hillenburg started brainstorming. He wanted more of a tiki vibe, inspired by a recent visit to Tahiti and a love of Hawaii, he told the Guardian. He started drawing up a new sponge character, starting with more amorphous sea sponges who had stubby limbs and droopy faces before turning to the square, kitchen sink sponge — more in tune with the squeaky-clean, rule-following SpongeBob he would become. “I thought [it] fit perfectly the innocent, nerd image and the series theme of a character forever stuck between a boy and a man,” he said in the 2008 declaration.

The result was Sponge Boy, the name of the character when Hillenburg first pitched the show to Nickelodeon in 1996.

“Who is Sponge Boy?” Hillenburg wrote in his original pitch to the network in ’96. “Sponge Boy is our hero! He’s a single male sponge who resides in a fully furnished, two bedroom … pineapple. He has an abnormal love for his job at ‘The Crusty Crab,’ a fast food restaurant. In fact, he’s so proud of his Crusty Crab uniform that he never takes it off — not even when he showers. His big dream is to capture the not-so-coveted ‘Employee of the month’ award, but, because of his overzealous nature and havoc it creates, this goal constantly eludes him.”

He described Squidward, SpongeBob’s grumpy neighbor and co-worker at the Krusty Krab, as “the kind of guy who subscribes to Martha Stewart Living” and “conducts along with his favorite Beethoven recordings” and Plankton, the owner of the failing Chum Bucket restaurant, as “a text book case of the Napoleon complex” who “talks like Gregory Peck and with perfect diction.”

Nickelodeon executives were sold on the spot. Sponge Boy, however, would become SpongeBob after Hillenburg discovered that a mop company had already copyrighted “Spongeboy” for its product.

“SpongeBob” is perhaps most loved for, above else, its naivete, the slapstick humor revolving around SpongeBob’s self-created fiascoes rather than dirty or cruel jokes. Tolerance and diversity have long been central themes, as SpongeBob is eager to befriend virtually every living creature he meets (often oblivious of his intrusions). SpongeBob’s optimism, Hillenburg said in his 2008 declaration, is intended to “transform the way the audience looks at things, helping them find the irony in even the dullest of life’s details.”

But the mission that originally led Hillenburg to the Orange County Marine Institute — wanting to educate young people about ocean conservation and its beauty and all of its endless curiosities — was never far behind, either.

As he told The Washington Post in 2009, just ahead of a release of a “SpongeBob SquarePants” documentary: “People have to come together and realize how important our oceans are. One thing I’m hoping will come out of the documentary is the realization that the show came from something that’s precious, and that we need to appreciate it. … Hopefully, if you watch ‘SpongeBob,’ you see the plankton and the crabs and starfish, and you’ll want to take care of our oceans.”

###

From NewsOK:

Stephen Hillenburg dies: Oklahomans pay tribute to 'SpongeBob SquarePants' creator's legacy

Oklahoma native and 'SpongeBob SquarePants' creator Stephen Hillenburg dies

Stephen Hillenburg, the Oklahoma-born creator of the popular cartoon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died Monday. He was 57.

The marine biology teacher-turned-animator died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He revealed in March 2017 that he had the neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” according to a statement from Nickelodeon. “Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

Hillenburg was born Aug. 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton. After leaving the military, his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg Jr., became a draftsman and designer for aerospace companies, while his mother Nancy taught visually impaired students.

Captivated by the wonders of the oceans, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation and became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California. With his love and talent for painting and drawing, he began to write and illustrate stories that he could use as teaching tools, featuring the colorful characters that would later become the now-familiar residents of Bikini Bottom.

In 1987, he began his career in animation, pursuing a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia and earning his master of fine arts 1992. That 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 various international animation festivals.

From 1993 to 1996, he sought work as a director and writer on the Nickelodeon animated series “Rocko’s Modern Life,” which was nominated for a Cable Ace Award in 1995. From there, he began to work full time writing, producing and directing an animated series that would eventually become “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

The first episode aired on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999, and the series commenced its full run on July, 17, 1999. The adventures of the perpetually cheerful and childlike title character in his underwater hometown of Bikini Bottom was an instant hit among children, but college students also were drawn to Hillenburg’s singular vision for the series, even hosting viewing parties for the show.

“SpongeBob is a character that captured the imagination not only of the current generation of kids but that of some Baby Boomers who saw the connection to the madcap antics and the playful irreverence of Looney Tunes cartoons that they had grown up watching,” said Cameron Eagle, creative director of the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, in a statement to The Oklahoman.

“As well as SpongeBob's zany antics there was a moral to Hillenburg's stories of always being a pal to your fellow sea creatures even if that creature happens to NOT be a sea creature but a squirrel with a deep-sea suit from Texas named Sandy!

“Stephen Hillenburg's characters and cartoons will continue to bring smiles to kids and adults for years to come and will join the all-time classics of animation.”

The TV series has won U.S. and British Emmy Awards, Annie Awards and ASACP Awards and has been dubbed or subtitled in more than 60 languages, including Urdu, Azerbaijani and Maori. It has spun off two feature films, with a third due out in 2020, and a Broadway musical that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards this year, winning for best scenic design.

Hillenburg wrote, produced and directed 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and wrote the story for and was the executive producer of the 2015 sequel “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.” The soundtrack of the 2004 film featured Wilco, Motorhead and Oklahoma City-based psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips.

Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said it was “such an honor” to be picked by Hillenburg to pen the song “SpongeBob & Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy” for the movie.

"He was such a fan of weirdo music, but not just weirdo, I guess, weirdo with some innocence and heart and optimism. So, at first, we thought, ‘why would he pick us??’ And then after a bit we realized, ‘Oh, I think we’re weirdos – yeah, optimistic weirdos,’” Coyne said in an emailed statement to The Oklahoman.

“Being part of the ‘SpongeBob’ world changed us. We were always kind of embarrassed about our innocent and emotional songs, but after he championed our music with such enthusiasm, it made us think, ‘Yeah, we’re heartfelt, yeah!! We embrace a sense of innocence in a lot of music. Yeah!!’ We could actually relate to SpongeBob SquarePants, his curiosity and how he always stood up for his friends."

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, his son Clay, his mother Nancy Hillenburg, his brother, Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his sister-in-law Isabel, and his nieces Emma and Hazel.

###

From Rotoscopers:

Remembering ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg (1961-2018)

It is with the sad grievance that we say goodbye to Stephen Hillenburg, the man who created Nickelodeon’s most legendary television series SpongeBob SquarePants. Hillenburg tragically passed away at the age of 57 after battling with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable muscle-deteriorating disease which he got diagnosed with in March of last year.
In a statement regarding Hillenburg’s passing via Variety, Nickelodeon said:

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma on August 21, 1961, Stephen McDannell Hillenburg grew up with a passion for drawing and a fascination on marine life. His love towards the latter convinced him to study marine biology at the Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, graduating in 1984 with a natural-resource planning bachelor. From there, Hillenburg went through various jobs such as a park service attendant, before landing his dream job as a marine science teacher at Orange County Marine (now called Ocean Institute).

Combining his teaching knowledge and artistic abilities, Hillenburg created an educational comic titled The Intertidal Zone to teach his young students, which featured anthropomorphic sea creatures including the comic’s co-host “Bob the Sponge”. Later on, he began to attend numerous animation festivals which sparked his fascination with the artistic film medium and convinced him to become an animator himself. He quit his teaching job in 1987 to study animation and signed up for the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts two years later.

Regarding this career change, Hillenburg said in Biography Today: Profiles of People of Interest to Young Readers that “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.” Nevertheless, he successfully graduated from CalArts with a Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation. That same final study year, he created two animated shorts titled The Green Beret and Wormholes, the latter of which was screened at many animation festivals including Annecy, Hiroshima International, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and more.

Hillenburg later landed his first professional animation job at Nickelodeon as a director on the show Rocko’s Modern Life. He and the show’s creator Joe Murray met at Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1992 where Hillenburg’s Wormholes and Murray’s My Dog Zero were screening. After being impressed with Hillenburg’s work, Murray offered him the directing gig. Hillenburg worked closely with Murray throughout the show’s four seasons, serving for directing, writing, and producing many some episodes.

During production, Rocko writer Martin Olson encouraged Hillenburg to create a show based around The Intertidal Zone. Though he had no intentions in doing so after seeing the stress Murray went through as a showrunner, he did have an idea of what to do in this situation. He expressed this in the April 2003 issue of Current Biography by saying:

“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 [my two interests] 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,”

However, his commitment to creating a show sparked up during a beach visit along the Santa Monica Freeway. He began to build his ideas based on his past teachings of marine biology and memorized how his students were fascinated with tide-pool creatures. Combining this, along with elements of The Intertidal Zone, and his past job experience as a fry cook, the final component was to choose the weirdest sea creature to use as the main character. Via The New York Times, he decided: “I wanted to do a show about a character that was an innocent, and so I focused on a sea sponge because it’s a funny animal, a strange one.” And thus, SpongeBob SquarePants was born.


Hillenburg’s concept sketches for the show’s characters. [Stephen Hillenburg]

Hillenburg pitched the show to Nickelodeon executives in 1997, completely themed with Hawaiian music and his Hawaiian t-shirt. This greatly impressed the higher-ups, and the green light on SpongeBob was granted. The series officially began airing on July 17, 1999, and became a smash hit, overtaking Pokémon as the highest-rated Saturday morning children’s show, and pulling in millions of viewers young and old, including college students.
On the show’s surprising success, Hillenburg remarked via Biography Today:

“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.”

After three seasons, the show’s production was suspended to make room for Hillenburg’s magnum opus: a theatrical animated movie starring the loveable yellow sponge. This came in the form of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, in which he served as director, co-producer, and one of the writers. SpongeBob and Patrick’s epic quest to retrieve King Neptune’s crown was released in North America via Paramount Pictures on November 19, 2004, to positive reviews and a worldwide gross of $140 million.

Hillenburg intended the movie to be the series finale, but considering how lucrative the franchise was for Nickelodeon, this was not going to happen. After the movie, he stepped down from the show, passed the showrunner torch to his trusted crew member Paul Tibbitt, and downgraded his role to an executive producer. From there, the show’s quality would diminish to inconsistency due to seasonal rot.
However, Hillenburg was reported to be fully returning to the show in 2014. He would then serve as a story writer and executive producer for the franchise’s second film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which Tibbitt directed, and the 2015 entry became another critical and commercial success. Sadly, Hillenburg was diagnosed with ALS two years later, though he remained committed to helping out with the show despite his disease.

In his final year of living in 2018, he received the Winsor McCay Award at the 45th Annie Awards, the top award that honours an individual’s lifetime achievements and accomplishments in the field of animation. Later that year during the 45th Daytime Emmy Awards, he was given special recognition for “his contribution and impact made in the animation field and within the broadcast industry.” Both of these were presented to him by SpongeBob’s voice actor Tom Kenny.



Stephen Hillenburg was truly a bold creative genius, showing how multiple interests and different career pathways would fuse together to create some really special, charming, and indeed very quotable. From his humble beginnings as a biology teacher to the top of his game with a hugely successful cartoon series, Hillenburg was the one responsible for making a child-like sponge and his friends into global icons. His groundbreaking franchise has been cemented into childhoods, popular culture, internet culture, and beyond, one where it’s universal appeal and impact should be guaranteed to last for generations to come.

And finally, we shall conclude with a short, yet touching farewell video which was edited by YouTuber Chris Patstone.



“Goodbye, friend.”

###

More:

-- The Greatness of Stephen Hillenburg and ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’

-- 8 Rap Lyrics Dedicated To SpongeBob SquarePants



Originally published: Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

Sources: Variety, Wikipedia, TheWrap, The Hollywood Reporter, RTÉ.ie, Entertainment Weekly, Screen Crush, Deadline, USA Today, BuzzFeed News, Mirror Online, The Irish Post, ComicBook, Pedestrian, Slate, Digital Spy, Press Association via Independent.ie, Bournemouth Echo, Manchester Evening News, abc13.com, East Coast Radio, Radio Times, Newsweek Pakistan, Entertainment.ie, News18, The Quint, Hype Malaysia, AsiaOne, uinterview, Bay 93.9 Geelong, Scroll.in

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