Nina Paley

Nina Paley (b. 1968) is an American cartoonist, animator and free culture activist. She directed the animated feature film ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’ She was the artist and often the writer of comic strips ‘Nina’s Adventures’ and ‘Fluff,’ but most of her recent work has been in animation. Her early short films include ‘Fetch!,’ ‘The Stork,’ and ‘The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer.’ Paley was born in Urbana, Illinois, to Hiram and Jean Paley in an American Jewish family.

Her father was a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois and was mayor of Urbana, where they resided, for a term in the early 1970s. She attended local elementary and high schools, illustrating a ‘History of the North Pole’ comic in collaboration with University High School history teacher Chris Butler, and attended the University of Illinois, studying art for two years.

Her first animation was made when she was 13, it was recorded on Super-8 reels. Her first animation as an adult was short story ‘Follow your Bliss.’ Her second clay animation, ‘I Heart My Cat,’ was shot on a Krasnogorsk camera. These two, along with the ‘Cancer,’ were found on VHS with description ‘NINA PALEY DEMO REEL 1998.’ in 2012, Paley decided to publish them under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. In 1988, Paley moved to Santa Cruz, California, and began to write and draw the strip ‘Nina’s Adventures.’ In 1991, she moved to San Francisco. In 1995, she began to draw the more mainstream ‘Fluff,’ a comic strip about a cat, which enjoyed a modest success in syndication. In 1998, she also began to experiment with animation.

In 1999, she made the world’s first cameraless IMAX film, ‘Pandorama,’ a short Modernist film which was shown widely at major film festivals in 35 mm form during 2000 and 2001. In 70 mm form, it also ran for about a year as a short feature at Berlin Cinestar and has been shown at IMAX theaters elsewhere. In 2001, she produced ‘Fetch!,’ a humorous short cartoon feature based on a variety of optical illusions, which has enjoyed popularity ever since. She then embarked on a series based on a more controversial subject, population growth. The centerpiece of the series was ‘The Stork,’ in which the natural environment is bombed to destruction by storks dropping bundled babies. The film is a compact expression of the conflict between increasing human population and the ecosystem in which it must live.

In 2002, Paley moved to Trivandrum, India, where her husband had taken a job. While she was visiting New York City on business concerning her third comic strip, ‘The Hots,’ her husband terminated their marriage. Unable to return to either India or San Francisco, she moved to Brooklyn. Her personal crisis caused her to see more deeply into the ‘Ramayana,’ the Indian epic, which she had encountered in India, and motivated her to produce a short animation which combines an episode from the Ramayana with a torch song recorded in 1929 by Annette Hanshaw, ‘Mean To Me.’ Since then she has added episodes and other material to the work, which is now called ‘Sita Sings the Blues,’ thus expanding it into feature-length treatment of the ‘Ramayana’ focused on Rama’s wife, Sita, using a variety of animation styles and techniques.

Because of obstacles in clearing the rights to Hanshaw’s recordings for the ‘Sita Sings the Blues,’ Paley took active part in the free culture movement. Since 2009 she is an Artist-in-residence at QuestionCopyright.org non-profit organization, which includes running the projects ‘Minute Memes’ and the ‘Sita Distribution Project. The former is a series of short videos about copyright restrictions and artistic freedom made by Paley. She wrote and performed the song ‘Copying Isn’t Theft’ meant to be freely remixed by other people. Other animations in the series include: ‘All Creative Work Is Derivative,’ ‘EFF Tribute,’ and ‘Credit is Due: The Attribution Song.’ She also made an illustrated guide to the idea of free content (‘Understanding Free Content’). In 2010 she started new comic strip ‘Mimi & Eunice,’ highlighting intellectual property problems and paradoxes.

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