1996’s famous internet dancing baby gets a makeover

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

If you were born before 1990, you might remember the 3D graphics of a nearly naked baby who danced on repeat to become one of the internet’s first viral phenomena. The weird but sassy “Dancing Baby” started spreading via chainmail messages in 1996 before appearing on major news networks in the United States and making its way onto the TV show “Ally McBeal” to remind the titular character of his ticking. biological clock.

To make you feel even older, this (not real) kid would now be 26, using dating apps and — assuming he’s American — determine how to purchase their own health insurance policy.

To celebrate the baby’s journey into adulthood, the goofy GIF has been given a new 3D redesign thanks to its original creators, Michael Girard, Robert Lurye and John Chadwick, in collaboration with creative group HFA- Studio based in Vienna. And in true 2022 style, the new dancing babies 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 throwback programs like “I Love the 90s” and, most recently, in the clip of Charli XCX and Troye Sivan for the track “1999”. HFA-Studio co-founder Charlie Scheichenost said the graphic has the same appeal as it did more than two decades ago.

“It’s the strange valley something (about it) connects to people,” Scheichenost said. He and his colleagues projected the baby into their gallery space, and when the windows are open, the graphic draws intrigued passers-by. “They immediately stop and say something about it,” he added.

(Clockwise from left) The newly rendered original Dancing Baby, plus

(Clockwise from left) The newly rendered original Dancing Baby, plus “remixes” by Kreationsministern, Yuuki Morita, Yonk and Kid Eight. Credit: Courtesy of HFA Studio / Autodesk

The newly rendered “Dancing Baby” appears to be more realistic than the original, with enhanced color tones and sharper image quality. He also looks a little plumper.

When updating the meme, HFA-Studio also asked contemporary digital artists to “remix” the image with their own interpretations as part of the new NFT collection. Chris Torres, creator of the rainbow feline meme ‘Nyan Cat’, made an 8-bit ‘Nyan Baby’, while artist Yuuki Morita, who creates disturbing digital creatures, opted for a multi-headed child which “represents the cry of”. ..(alive) in the chaos of modern times,” according to a statement.

Dark origins

It can be hard to explain why a particular image goes viral, and the “Dancing Baby,” which is widely credited as the first great internet meme, is no exception.

Like many memes, it was originally an obscure graphic – in this case a sample file for software company Autodesk’s Character Studio animation plugin (which was created by Unreal Pictures, a company co-founded by Girard, Chadwick and animator and artist Susan Amkraut, with Lurye later as a freelancer). Remixing or modifying the baby was central to his original goal.

“As one of many sample animation files included in 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. characters,” Girard, Chadwick and Lurye explained in a joint email. “The sample files also serve to inspire customers and suggest methods for creating their own original content.”

The chart’s viral journey began with email exchanges. Girard said it was probably first sent by one of Autodesk’s customers, Ron Lussier, who made changes to the original source file and attached a low-resolution version to a message. But according to Voxthe “Dancing Baby” spread across the internet when web developer John Woodell turned it into a GIF.
Last year, former artistic director of rock band Nine Inch Nails, Rob Sheridan, also cast himself as an unlikely contributor to the image’s early viral fame, sharing via Patreon that in the late 90s he ran a “Dancing Baby” fan site where users could upload their own variations.

“My little hit counter was exploding,” he wrote. “Visitors began submitting alternate edits of the dancing baby which I happily posted on my page, including the most famous ‘oogachaka’ version which paired the original animation with the song ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Sweden.”

“Soon I added other ‘remixed’ versions that people were submitting: ‘Rasta Baby’, ‘Techno Baby’, the infamous ‘Drunk Baby’,” he added.

mass appeal

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 achieved its original goal of inspiring creativity — and more.

“It was released as something that was welcome to be remixed,” Burrough, who prefers his name stylized 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 it really gives people the freedom to take the image and allow it to fit into today’s context.”

Unreal Pictures and Autodesk shared the copyrights to “Dancing Baby” until 2004, splitting profits on merchandise ranging from T-shirts and screensavers to a wind-up toy, according to its creators. Then Autodesk acquired Unreal Pictures. Today, the baby’s creators are known through casual interviews and internet lore, though they’ve mostly avoided the spotlight.

They too don’t know why their graphics struck a chord and became the symbol of the era, adding that computer animation was, at the time, experimental and “the internet in 1996 was still dreamlike, innocent technology. “.

But burrough thinks it’s pretty simple. “God, that really is a naked baby, isn’t it?” she said laughing. “And I don’t mean… clothes or no clothes, but it’s this naked figure that’s used to symbolize a lot of 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 about it.”

Animation image credits: Autodesk (top); Kid eight (middle); Chris Torres/Nyan Cat (bottom).

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