Also known as “the Oogachacka Baby,” it became one of the earliest viral videos.
Internet denizens of a certain age will recall with fondness the 3D animated Dancing Baby (aka “Baby Cha-Cha” and “the Oogachacka Baby”) that went viral in 1996. Sure, the rendering was crude by today’s standards and—it must be said—a little creepy, but in many ways, the Dancing Baby was a proto-meme. Now, almost 25 years after it was first created, an enterprising college student has re-rendered the original model and animation in a suitable HD format for modern displays.
The Dancing Baby is just a 3D rendering of a baby in a diaper, animated to do a little dance to the opening of the song “Hooked on a Feeling” by Swedish rock band Blue Swede (featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack in 2014). It was developed by Michael Girard and Robert Lurye in 1996 as a sample source file for the 3D animation software package Character Studio (used in conjunction with 3D Studio Max). The 3D source film was released to the public that same year so that animators could render their own video clips.
Then a LucasArts staffer named Ron Lussier shared a tweaked version of the file with a few co-workers in an email, launching innumerable email chains that eventually spread outside the company and all over the world. Eventually people began remixing the original dancing baby. There was a Kung Fu Baby, a Rasta Baby, and a Samurai Baby, for instance. The model hit peak virality in 1998, when it was featured in a dream sequence on the popular TV show Ally McBeal, supposedly representing the titular character’s anxiety over her ticking biological clock.
We may never unlock the secret of the Dancing Baby’s broad appeal, any more than we can explain why the Hamster Dance (arguably a precursor to the Rickroll) went viral. But Rob Beschizza, waxing poetic at Boing Boing, says the Dancing Baby emerged “from a place where new and old media first found a common audience, a place that is now filled with darkness and anxiety but then seemed to promise wonders and new horizons. The dissolving of things was both anticipated and embraced; just not the dissolving of all human bonds before the graceless and impassive crush of technology.”
Jack Armstrong, a student at Bolton University, wrote a Twitter thread detailing the process by which he revived the ultimate 1990s meme. A friend asked if he could put the Dancing Baby as a player model in the physics-based sandbox game Gary’s Mod (GMod), and “I had nothing to do that night, so why not?” (Thus are many viral Internet sensations born.) Tracking down the original file proved challenging. The first file he located proved not to be the iconic model, but after several hours, he finally stumbled across a rather sketchy old abandonware site with a zip file.
After scanning for malware, Armstrong opened the zip file. “To my utter shock, there it was: the entire 1996 Character Studio pack, released only on disc to paying customers, somehow finding its way onto the Internet years after relevancy and the legal consequences of pirating it,” he marveled.
Among the files was the prize he sought: a file called SK_BABY.MAX. “Not only did it open, but I was delighted to find it came with animation that the model is known for today,” he wrote. It took a bit of work to export the model into GMod, but Armstrong persevered, rendering his final recreation in 1080p and 60FPS for Internet posterity.
“Since the whole model was vertex colored, I didn’t even need to re-map it,” Armstrong wrote. “I hope by re-rendering such a classic meme in HD and putting the model to new use, I have advanced the preservation efforts of the Internet.” May the Dancing Baby go viral once again!
Listing image by YouTube/J. Armstrong Art