If you were born before 1990, you may remember 3D graphics a nearly naked child who danced on a loop and became one of the first viral phenomena on the internet. The quirky but brash “Dancing Baby” began circulating via forwarded emails in 1996, before it hit mainstream US news networks and landed on the TV show “Ally McBeal” to remind the protagonist of her ticking. The biological clock.
To make you feel even older, this (fake) kid is now 26, uses dating apps, and – assuming he’s American – find out how to purchase your own health insurance policy.
To celebrate a child’s journey into adulthood, the awkward GIF has been re-rendered in 3D thanks to its original creators, Michael Girard, Robert Lurie and John Chadwick, in collaboration with Vienna-based creative team HFA-Studio. And in true 2022 style, the new dancing kids will be released as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, next week.
Over the years, the baby has become a symbol of the 90s and early Internet nostalgia, appearing on VH1 programs such as “I Love the 90s” and most recently in Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s music video for the track “1999.” HFA-Studio co-founder Charlie Scheichenost said the graphics are as compelling as they were over two decades ago.
“It’s an ominous valley — something (in this) is connected with people,” Shaikhenost said. He and his colleagues projected a baby into their gallery space, and when the windows are open, the graphics draw intrigued passers-by. “They immediately stop and say something about it,” he added.
(Clockwise from left) Newly rendered original Dancing Baby as well as “remixes” from Kreationsministern, Yuuki Morita, Yonk and Kid Eight. Credit: Courtesy of HFA / Autodesk Studio
The newly rendered “Dancing Baby” appears more realistic than the original, with improved color tones and sharper image quality. He also looks somewhat plumper.
It can be difficult to explain why any particular image goes viral, and “The Dancing Baby”, which is widely regarded as the first major internet meme, is no exception.
Like many memes, it was originally a little-known graphic – in this case a sample file for Autodesk’s Character Studio animation plugin (which was created by Unreal Pictures, a firm co-founded by Girard, Chadwick and animator and artist Susan Amkraut, later joined by Lurie as a freelancer). The remix or modification of the child 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 animation tools and character rigs,” explained Girard, Chadwick and Lurie in a joint email. . “The sample files also serve to inspire clients and offer methods for creating their own original content.”
“My little hit counter was off the charts,” he wrote. “Visitors started sending in alternate versions of the dancing baby, which I happily posted on my page, including the most famous oogachak version, which combined the original animation with Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.”
“I soon added other ‘remixes’ that people sent in: ‘Rasta Baby’, ‘Techno Baby’, the infamous ‘Drunk Baby’,” he added.
According to media artist Kstein Burrow, who is also a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and has an academic interest in the meme, “Dancing Baby” achieved its original goal of inspiring creativity – and more.
“It was released as a remix, which is welcome,” Burrow, who prefers to have her name stylized in lowercase, said in a phone interview. “And we have seen the results of it, and we are still seeing the results of it. And it really gives people the freedom to take an image and let it fit in today’s context.”
Unreal Pictures and Autodesk shared the copyright on The Dancing Child until 2004, sharing profits from merchandise ranging from T-shirts and headbands to a wind-up toy, according to its makers. Autodesk then acquired Unreal Pictures outright. Today, the creators of the baby are known through casual interviews and internet lore, although they have mostly avoided the limelight.
They, too, are unsure why their graphics resonated and became emblematic of the era, adding that computer animation was experimental at the time and “the Internet in 1996 was still a fabulous and innocent technology.”
But Burrow thinks it’s pretty simple. “God, that’s really a naked baby, right?” she said with a laugh. “And I don’t mean… clothed or unclothed, but it is this nude figure that is used to refer to many different circumstances.”
But it’s also “the physics of a dancing baby,” she added. “The way it moves is really hard not to laugh.”
Animation credits: Autodesk (top); Baby Eight (center); Chris Torres/Nyan Cat (below).