Stephen Hillenburg grew up with the interest in marine life. He would watch films of the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. At the age of 15, after a snorkeling trip, he began his study in the sea (oceanography).
Stephen studied at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California in 1984. After graduating, he went on into teaching marine life in Orange County Marine Institute (now known as the Orange County Ocean Institute) for 3 years in Dana Point, California. As he was following his favorite subject, he had another passion: art.
"Initially I think I assumed that if I went to school for art, I would never have any way of making a living. So, I thought it might be smarter to keep art my passion and hobby and study something else. But by the time I got to the end of my undergrad work, I realized I should be in art." -Under the Sea and On Top of the World.
Later on, he studied experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. After graduation, he got a job in Nickelodean Studios working in Joe Murray's cartoon Rocko's Modern Life. As he worked there, he had the idea of making a cartoon of his own. As he planned, he was mixing his idea for the cartoon with his studies of marine life. He taught about the times learning at the Ocean Institutes. Therefore, he mixed both things together got the setting of an underwater world, he needed to think of the characters.
He choose a sponge to be the main character because for him, it was the least obvious underwater creature that anyone would imagine. The difference from this sponge and real sponges are that this sponge looks like a yellow kitchen sponge instead of a dull, rock-attaching sea sponges. Later on, he added ideas of other undersea characters. He made them into an undersea civilization. The last object he had to go through to get the his cartoon into television, he needed Nick's approval.
In a presentation, he brought sculptures, sketches, an aquarium and a theme song to explain his cartoon. It was such a success that it guaranteed an approval from them. Later on, it got into the air! In reality, Stephen never had the idea that it would be a huge success on the audience that it was even able to be a movie!
He resigned from the show in 2004.
Several nominations he got were an Annie Award for Directing in an Animated Feature Production for "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie", several Emmy awards nominations for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour) for the Spongebob Squarepants series, and other misc. awards by the cartoon like Walk the Talk Award from "Heal the Bay Organization" in 2001 for promoting marine life awareness through the show. Other awards were the Princess Grace Award in Film in 1992 and a Princess Grace Statue Award in 2002.
In his success in his cartoon, he has his own personal life living with his wife and son, playing music with his pals and enjoys the beach, where he goes snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing.