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The "Dancing Baby" phenomenon refers to a 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.
Variations to the original animation were later produced by numerous animators, by modifying the sk_baby.max sample file's animation or the baby model itself, including a "drunken baby", a "rasta baby", a "samurai baby", and others. However, none of these became as popular on the Internet as the original file, and most popular uses of Dancing Baby are virtually unchanged from the original character mesh and animation.
Appearances in mainstream media
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 Fox's Ally McBeal comic drama series. The 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 Blue Swede's cover of the B. J. Thomas 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
The Dancing Baby made constant appearances in trade shows, worldwide marketing media, and of course in mainstream media such as television, music videos, and later in film too:
- Crash Designs Incorporated, a 1990s dot-com company, founded by father and son Jeffrey Ambrose and Michael Ambrose, was the first to sell Dancing Baby merchandise, including T-shirts, ties, boxers, and mouse pads through its e-commerce website.
- 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.
- The Dancing Baby's first appearance on Ally McBeal was in season one episode 12, "Cro-Magnon", airing on January 5, 1998.
- 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 reached No. 21 on the UK charts.
- The Dancing Baby appeared on an episode of Unhappily Ever After, with Dennis Franz as the baby.
- It was parodied in the opening of The House that Dick Built, episode 15 from the 4th season of 3rd Rock from the Sun, with Harry Solomon (French Stewart) as the baby.
- 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."
- Blockbuster Video commercial, baby dances to the Rick James hit, "Give It to Me Baby".
- The Dancing Baby is also spoofed in an episode of The Simpsons, "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", in which Homer visits (and later steals from) a website featuring Jesus dancing with the same moves as the baby.
- 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.'"
- 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 2002 movie Life or Something Like It, the Dancing Baby appears on the score board at the baseball game.
- The Cincinnati, Ohio classic rock station WEBN featured the dancing baby dancing to the song "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC on a television commercial for the station.
- 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!.
- In 2015, it made an appearance in a Delta safety video.
- The Dancing Baby makes several appearances in the Tiger Award-winning Peruvian film Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes).
Several video games have included references to the Dancing Baby.
- In the EA Sports football game FIFA 99, the editor includes an animation of a player doing the Dancing Baby dance.
- The Dancing Baby also makes an appearance in the Xbox and PS2 title, Silent Hill 4.
- An easter egg exists in Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire where the hero dances in the Dead Parrot Inn, imitating the exact moves of the Dancing Baby.
- In the official trailer for Stalin vs. Martians, Stalin dances around the same as Dancing Baby.
- The Dancing Baby was used in an animation featured at the end of a level in the game RollerTyping.
- In the computer game Zoo Tycoon, the gorillas will sometimes do the same dance as the dancing baby.
- In a leaked alpha build of Half-Life, the tech demo map contains a model of the Polyrobo, a robot from robotech, used to test poly limits in the engine will perform an animation that is the baby dance.
More recent appearances
The Dancing Baby is sometimes referenced as a symbol of 1990s culture, or as part of a tradition dating back to the time of its popularity.
- The baby is a recurring feature on VH1's I Love the 90s series, and it also appeared on Best Week Ever.
- In the Journeyman episode "The Year of the Rabbit", a scene from Ally McBeal with the Dancing Baby appeared anachronistically in a scene set in 1997.
- The ninth episode of the 2016 Netflix series White Rabbit Project briefly features the dancing baby GIF, noting its 1996 appearance was a peak in the popularity of GIFs after their 1987 introduction.
- The baby makes an appearance in the 2018 music video 1999 by Charli XCX and Troye Sivan as homage to popular culture of the 90s and 00s, along with many other references.
- "Dancing Baby cha-chas from the Internet to the networks" - Sci-Tech Story Page, CNN, Jan 1998
- Internet Dancing Baby site - Contains a copy of one of the original dancing baby renderings