Stephen Hillenburg is the creator of "SpongeBob SquarePants," the off-kilter animated series that follows the misadventures of a hapless but endlessly cheerful sea-sponge in the aquatic metropolis of Bikini Bottom. The Nickelodeon show became an offbeat hit after it debuted in 1999, appealing to young people and adults alike. The requisite big-screen adaptation, "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," hit screens in 2004. Hillenburg's background as a marine biologist doubtless provided inspiration for the show's creative tide pool. Born in 1961, he taught at California's Orange County Ocean Institute before enrolling in the animation program at Cal Arts. There he made two films -- "The Green Beret" and "Wormholes" -- that called him to the attention of fellow animator Joe Murray. Sensing a shared sensibility, Murray hired Hillenburg to work as a director and writer for his Nickelodeon series "Rocko's Modern Life." After the show ended its run in 1996, Hillenburg drew upon a comic-book he had created to teach intertidal ecology as the basis for "SpongeBob SquarePants."