Nina Paley

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Nina Paley
Nina Paley Chiaroscuro.jpg
Nina Paley (2006)
Born (1968-05-03) May 3, 1968 (age 48)
Urbana, Illinois
Nationality American
Area(s) Writer, penciller, cartoonist, animator
Notable works
Nina's Adventures, Sita Sings the Blues

Nina Paley (born May 3, 1968) is an American cartoonist, animator and free culture activist.[1]

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.

Early life[edit]

Paley was born in Urbana,[2] Illinois, the daughter of Jean (Passovoy) and Hiram Paley.[3] Her family was Jewish.[4] 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.[5]

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 the short story Follow your Bliss. Her second clay animation, I Heart My Cat, was shot on a Krasnogorsk camera. These two, along with Cancer, were found on VHS with the description "NINA PALEY DEMO REEL 1998". In 2012, Paley decided to publish them under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.[6]

Nina's Adventures and other work[edit]

The Hots strip

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.[7]

In 1999, she made the world's first cameraless IMAX film, Pandorama,[8] 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.[9][10]

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.[11] The film is a compact expression of the conflict between increasing human population and the ecosystem in which it must live. The 3½ minute film was a considerable success at festivals and resulted in an invitation to Sundance in 2003. In this time she also drew several comic strips for VHEMT which remain on the VHEMT website today.[12]

Early in 2010 Paley started drawing a new three-panel comic strip called Mimi & Eunice. She is distributing it on the web using a copyleft license.[13] In 2013, Paley created an animation on Vimeo depicting the Middle East conflicts over history; it was named a Staff Pick.[14]

Between projects, Paley has worked as a freelance director at DUCK Studios in Los Angeles.[15]

Sita and recent work[edit]

At the Berlinale premiere of Sita Sings the Blues in 2008

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 Trivandrum or San Francisco, she moved to Brooklyn, New York. 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".[16]

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. Many of the episodes have appeared in recent animation festivals. The finished work premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on Feb. 11, 2008.[17]

She has taught in the Design and Technology section of Parsons, part of The New School.[18]

In 2012 she began work on a project called "Seder Masochism",[19] an unorthodox animated film of The Exodus, narrated by recordings of Passover Seders. Phase I was an experiment with recordings, the funding for it was gathered via Kickstarter service. The real movie will be produced in Phase II.[20]

She also makes some quilts.[21]

Free culture activism[edit]

"Copying is not theft!" badge by Paley

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 non-profit organization, which includes running the projects "Minute Memes" and the "Sita Distribution Project".[22] "Minute Memes"[23] is a series of short ("one-minute") video "memes" 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,[24] which she also made the animated clip to as the Minute Meme #1.[25] Next animations in this series are "All Creative Work Is Derivative",[26] EFF Tribute[27] and "Credit is Due: The Attribution Song".[28] She also made an illustrated guide to the idea of free content ("Understanding Free Content"[29]).

In 2010 she started new comic strip Mimi & Eunice, highlighting intellectual property problems and paradoxes.

She plans to publish much of her work, including "Nina’s Adventures", "Fluff", and all original work in Sita Sings The Blues, under a copyleft licence.[30] The website for Sita Sings the Blues includes a wiki where its fans contributed translated subtitles for the DVD of the film.[31] On January 18, 2013, Nina posted on her blog that the copyright license for Sita Sings The Blues was being switched from CC-BY-SA to CC-0, thus placing the work into the public domain.[32]

In 2012 she was a special guest on international conference CopyCamp in Warsaw.[33]

Paley won Public Knowledge organization's IP3 award in 2010 "for her work in intellectual property".[34]


Comic strips[edit]


Still image from the feature film Sita Sings the Blues
  • Cancer (1998. Drawing directly on film. 2 minutes. Color. 35mm.)
  • Luv Is... (1998. Clay animation. 3.5 minutes. Beta SP / Super-8. Color.)
  • I (heart) My Cat (1998. Clay animation. 3 minutes. 16mm. Color.)
  • Pandorama (2000. Drawing directly on film. 3 minutes. color. 15perf/70mm - also known as "IMAX")
  • Fetch![35] (2001. 2-D computer animation. 4.5 minutes. 35mm. Color.)
  • The Stork[36] (2002. 2-D computer animation (Flash/Photoshop/Final Cut Pro). 3 minutes. Video. Color.)
  • Goddess of Fertility (2002. 2-D digital animation. 2 minutes. Clay animated on glass. Color. 35mm.)
  • Fertco (2002. 2-D digital animation. 3 minutes. Color. Video.)
  • The Wit and Wisdom of Cancer[37] (2002. 2-D digital animation. 4.5 minutes. Color. Dialog. Video.)
  • Sita Sings the Blues (82 min, 2003–2008, 2-D digital animation. Color.)
  • This Land Is Mine - A brief history of the land called Israel/Palestine/Canaan/the Levant[38] (3.32 min, 2012, 2-D digital animation. Color.)
  • On Children, a segment in Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (2015. 2-D digital animation. Color.)

Media Appearances[edit]

  • The Tom and Doug Show - Paley has been a regular guest on the nationally syndicated Tom and Doug radio show, a weekly comedy music show on the Pacifica Radio Network.[39] She "showed" her film "The Wit and Wisdom of Cancer" on show 304, discussed her "Christmas Resistance movement" on show 336, discussed Tom and Doug's songs "Gangsta Knitter" and "Sooner or Later" on show 232, discussed "Sita Sings the Blues" on show 361, and Tom and Doug rewrote her song "Copying is Not Theft" and played it for her on show 377.[40]


  1. ^ My Official Position on Copyright, Nina Paley blog, accessed May 28, 2009
  2. ^ Nina Paley at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^,_hiram.html
  4. ^ Kickstarter
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^, official website, accessed Feb. 2, 2007
  8. ^ Pandorama,
  9. ^ Fetch! (2002) at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Speaking of the Future with Nina Paley, The Speculist, October 16, 2003. accessed Feb. 8, 2007
  11. ^ The Stork and other films in the Internet Archive
  12. ^
  13. ^ mimi-eunice on
  14. ^ Vimeo
  15. ^ Tiny Inventions Takes to DUCK Studios, Animation Insider, September 29, 2010
  16. ^ Featured artist - Nina Paley: Sita Sings the Blues, Flash Goddess, October 2005. accessed Feb. 8, 2007
  17. ^ Sita Sings The Blues (Work in Progress) Plus Selected Shorts, Cinema Arts Centre - Huntington, NY. accessed Feb. 8, 2007
  18. ^ Parsons - Design & Technology Faculty, Nina Paley
  19. ^
  20. ^ seder-masochism-phase-i on
  21. ^ quilting on
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Copying Isn't Theft" -- Your Versions, accessed May 28, 2009
  25. ^ "Copying Is Not Theft (Minute Meme #1)"
  26. ^ "All Creative Work Is Derivative (Minute Meme #2)"
  27. ^ "Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrates 20 years with new animation from Nina Paley."
  28. ^ "Credit is Due (The Attribution Song)"
  29. ^ Understanding Free Content,, 2009-04-02. accessed May 28, 2009
  30. ^ "The whole struggle with our broken copyright system turned me into a Free Culture activist. I’m actually going to release all my old “Nina’s Adventures” and “Fluff” comics under a Share Alike (copyleft) license too." accessed May 28, 2009
  31. ^ See its lists of subtitles and screenings
  32. ^ ahimsa-sita-sings-the-blues-now-cc-0-public-domain on
  33. ^ "Copycamp Talk". 2012-12-14. Retrieved 2014-12-03. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ Fetch! on Youtube
  36. ^ The Stork on Youtube
  37. ^ The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer on Youtube
  38. ^ This Land Is Mine on Vimeo
  39. ^
  40. ^

External links[edit]