If you were born before 1990, you may remember the 3D image of: a nearly naked baby who danced on a loop to become one of the earliest viral phenomena on the internet. The weird but cheeky “Dancing Baby” started spreading through forwarded email chains in 1996 before appearing on major news networks in the US and making its way onto the TV show “Ally McBeal” to tap the titular character of her. remember biological clock.
To make you feel even older, that (not real) kid would now be 26 years old, use dating apps and — assuming it’s American — figuring out how to buy his own health insurance.
To celebrate baby’s journey into adulthood, the clunky GIF has received another 3D-rendered overhaul thanks to its original creators, Michael Girard, Robert Lurye and John Chadwick, in collaboration with Vienna-based creative group HFA-Studio. And in true 2022 style, the new dancing babies will be released next week as NFTs, or non-replaceable tokens.
Over the years, the baby has become a symbol of the ’90s and early internet nostalgia, appearing on VH1 shows like ‘I Love the ’90s’ and, more recently, in Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s music video for the number ‘1999’. HFA-Studio co-founder Charlie Scheichenost said the image has the same appeal as it did more than two decades ago.
“It’s the eerie valley † something connects people,” Scheichenost said. He and his colleagues projected the baby into their gallery space and when the windows are open, the image attracts intrigued passers-by. “They immediately stop and say something about it,” he added. .
(Clockwise from left) The newly rendered original Dancing Baby, plus “remixes” from Kreationsministern, Yuuki Morita, Yonk, and Kid Eight. Credit: Courtesy of HFA Studio / Autodesk
The newly rendered “Dancing Baby” appears more realistic than the original, with enhanced color tones and sharper image quality. It also looks a bit fuller.
It can be hard to explain why a particular image is going viral, and the “Dancing Baby,” widely regarded as the first major internet meme, is no exception.
Like many memes, it was originally an obscure image — in this case a sample file for software company Autodesk’s Character Studio animation plugin Character Studio (which was created by Unreal Pictures, a company co-founded by Girard, Chadwick, and the animator and artist Susan Amkraut, with Lurye later as a freelancer). Remixing or adapting the baby was central to its original purpose.
“As one of the many sample animation files included with the 3dsMax Character Studio 1.0 release, the Dancing Baby animation file has helped customers understand how to use and integrate our character animation/rigging tools,” explain Girard, Chadwick and Lurye in a joint email. “Sample files also serve to inspire customers and suggest methods for creating their own original content.”
“My little hit counter went through the roof,” he wrote. “Visitors started submitting alternate edits of the dancing baby that I was happy to put on my page, including the most famous ‘oogachaka’ version that combined the original animation with Blue Swede’s song ‘Hooked on a Feeling’.”
“I soon added other ‘remixed’ versions that people sent in: ‘Rasta Baby,’ ‘Techno Baby,’ the infamous ‘drunk baby,'” he added.
Calling the masses
According to media artist Xtine Burrough, who is also an associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas with an academic interest in the meme, the “Dancing Baby” has accomplished its original purpose of inspiring creativity — and then some.
“It was released as something that was hailed to be remixed,” Burrough, who prefers to stylize her name with lowercase letters, said in a phone interview. “And we’ve seen the results of that, and we’re still seeing the results of that. And that really gives people the freedom to take the picture and fit it into today’s context.”
Unreal Pictures and Autodesk shared the copyright for “Dancing Baby” until 2004, splitting profits from merchandise ranging from T-shirts and screensavers to wind-up toys, according to the makers. Then Autodesk acquired Unreal Pictures outright. Today, the creators of the baby are known for occasional interviews and internet stories, although they have mostly avoided the limelight.
They too aren’t sure why their image struck a chord and became symbolic of the era, adding that computer animation was experimental at the time and that “in 1996 the Internet was still a dreamy and harmless technology.”
But Burrough thinks it’s pretty simple. “Gosh, it really is a naked baby, isn’t it?” she said with a laugh. “And I don’t mean…clothes or no clothes, but it’s this naked figure that is used to symbolize many different circumstances.”
But it’s also “the physics of a dancing baby,” she added. “The way it moves, it’s really hard not to laugh at it.”
Animation image credits: Autodesk (above); Kid Eight (center); Chris Torres/Nyan Cat (below).