Dancing baby

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The shipped cha-cha dancing motion file assigned to the Baby model data

The "Dancing Baby", also called "Baby Cha-Cha", is a 3D-rendered animation of a baby dancing. It quickly became a media phenomenon and one of the first viral videos, in the late 1990s.

History of the Dancing Baby Animation[edit]

The "Dancing Baby" phenomenon refers to a 3D rendered animation of a baby performing a cha-cha type dance. It originated as a collection of experimental testing data and files, ultimately released in Autumn of 1996 as a product sample source file (sk_baby.max) with the 3D character animation software product "Character Studio", used with 3D Studio Max (both products from Kinetix/Autodesk). The original sample source file was produced and prepared by the original Character Studio development team (Michael Girard, Susan Amkraut, John Chadwick, Paul Bloemink, John Hutchinson, Adam Felt) at Unreal Pictures and Kinetix/Autodesk, amongst several other sample files. The cha-cha animation was created using the "Biped" animation system of Character Studio by Robert Lurye and Michael Girard. The 3D model of a human baby was added later by the development team as one of the character "skins" for the rendered animation. The original "Toddler with Diaper" model #VP5653 was built by, and courtesy of, Viewpoint Datalabs, with the bulk of the skinning and rigging performed by John Chadwick using the "Physique" skin/deformation system in Character Studio, and final edits by John and members of the Autodesk development team. After the first pre-release application of the 3D baby model to the cha-cha animation (and from pre-release showings), Kinetix/Autodesk employees realized it was amusing to see a baby dance a cha-cha rather than just walk; this helped ensure the selection of the 'dancing baby' as a sample file for debut release of Character Studio and for demonstration videos in product promotion.

The animation of the original dancing baby data consists of heavily researched and adapted physics models to automate animation along with interpolated manually animated keyframes that are generated and synthesized by the "Biped" system of the Character Studio product. Contrary to popular misconceptions, none of the original Dancing Baby animation data were created using motion capture.

After the 3D source file was released to public with the Character Studio product (Autumn 1996) users and animators were able to render their own video clips of the 'original' animated dancing baby (sk_baby.max) and circulate these via the Compuserve (internet) forums, World Wide Web (commercial and private web sites), and in print ads and unrestricted e-mail. Such activity proliferated most significantly from mainstream (Windows users) royalty-free access to and user renderings of the 3D dancing baby source file for use on internet and in broadcast television via several news editorials, advertisements, and even comic programming in local, national (U.S), and various international markets.

In late 1996, web developer John Woodell created a highly compressed animated gif from the source movie, as part of a demo of the movie-to-gif process. Woodell later published the gif to his employee web page of the Internet startup where he worked. The animated gif then proliferated to numerous other web sites, and later proceeded to show up in a broad array of mainstream media, including television dramas (e.g. Ally McBeal), commercial advertisements, and music videos between 1997–1998.


Later, several interesting variations to the original animation were also produced by modifying the sk_baby.max sample file's animation and the baby model itself with noticeable changes, and some not even dancing at all. Many users/animators were responsible for improved, diverse, and even more amusing variations of the dancing baby animation and character model itself. However, evidentially the most widespread broadcasting, distribution and viewing of 'the' Dancing Baby animation that became so popular consist of lighted and rendered views of the original and/or virtually unmodified sk_baby.max model and animation. As a result, variations of the dancing baby animation did not become quite as popular or as influential as the original sk_baby.max animation and source file. This is evident by observing the references to most popular uses of Dancing Baby during the primary wave of its proliferation 1996-1997 and comparing those animations to the original sk_baby.max character mesh and animation to note they are virtually unchanged if at all. Some exceptional variations have followed, but cannot be credited for the original internet phenomenon and proliferation. Such stylized versions and parodies included a "drunken baby", a "rasta baby", a "samurai baby", and others, but none of these became as popular on the Internet as the original file, which still remains in active circulation, and has been adapted to various musical soundtracks.

Appearances in mainstream media[edit]

The Dancing Baby animation spread quickly on popular web forums, individual web sites, international e-mail, demo videos, commercials, and eventually mainstream television. Awareness of the baby most significantly increased when featured on CBS, CNN, and on Fox's Ally McBeal comic drama series. The same animation was shown on several episodes of Ally McBeal as a recurring hallucination, suggesting a metaphor for the ticking of Ally's biological clock. On that show, it was curiously accompanied by a Blue Swede cover of the song "Hooked on a Feeling". Various commercial advertisements presented the Dancing Baby animation to international markets continuing the mainstream media attention. This particular manifestation of the video, bound to the song, is widely distributed and referred to as the Ugachaka (or Oogachaka) Baby.

More examples of the Dancing Baby used in mainstream media are below.

Television, media, music and film[edit]

The Dancing Baby made constant appearances in trade shows, world wide marketing media, and of course in mainstream media such as television, music videos, and later in film too:

  • In 1996, the original Character Studio dancing baby animation appeared in major trade show demo reels, including NAB, Siggraph, IBC, Game Developer Conference (GDC), E3, and others.
  • In 1996, the sequence appeared in Studio !K7 release 'X-Mix Electro Boogie', as soundtrack for the track 'Demented Spirit' by The Octagon Man.
  • In 1996 and 1997, the dancing baby animation appeared on various local television broadcasts, including news and tech editorials, and CBS syndicated stations.
  • At the height of the Ally McBeal series, a dance group called Trubble released a song called Dancing Baby (Ooga-Chaka) which charted well in Australia in late 1998/early 1999 and hit #21 on the UK charts.
  • In the parody wrestling series Celebrity Deathmatch, during a match between Lucy Lawless and Calista Flockhart (the actress who played Ally McBeal), the dancing baby suddenly appears in the ring with his back turned to the camera. After a moment of dancing, he turns around and is shown to be Dennis Franz in nothing but a diaper; referee Mills Lane shouts at him, "I told you I didn't want you in my ring, Dennis Franz!", to which an annoyed Franz leaves not before replying back, "Alright, tough guy."
  • In the television series Millennium, the episode "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" features a demon who manifests himself in the form of a baby, dancing to the Black Flag song "My War". Writer/director Darin Morgan based the baby on its use in Ally McBeal; as he commented, "It's a terrifying thing, that baby. She dances with it, and you go, 'There's something really wrong with this person.'"[3]
  • In an episode of Chowder, a parody of the dancing baby (looking rather demonically) appears, causing everyone to freak out and scream at the sight of it.
  • In the episode of Family Guy called "McStroke", Stewie Griffin and Brian Griffin bet on whether or not Stewie could become the coolest kid in high school in a week. He did, so Brian had to email all of his friends the Dancing Baby video.
  • In 2010, the Dancing Baby appeared on an episode of SuperNews!.

Video games[edit]

Several video games have included references to the Dancing Baby.

More Recent Appearances[edit]

The Dancing Baby is still occasionally referenced as a symbol of 1990s culture, or as part of a tradition dating back to the time of its popularity.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]