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“You know that Oogachaka baby, the one that appeared on the TV show, Ally McBeal? At one point, that was me.” When my friend Andy Palmer said these words, my jaw dropped, my mind went blank, and I just stared at him.
There are Internet icons that stand the test of time: There’s the “You Got Mail!” ping, the Like button, Leeroy Jenkins – and then there is the Dancing Baby GIF.
Andy Palmer is the son of Mike Palmer, who used to be head of Marketing & Sales at Kinetix, the internal start-up in Autodesk involved in the creation of the Dancing Baby.
It was originally intended to be part of a product called Character Studio and used with the 3D Studio Max suite. While the actual modeling and rendering of the animation was done by the Character Studio team, Mike was involved with the sales and marketing aspect of the project. In the creation process, he says “the animators did a lot of ‘playing’.”
“The Dancing Baby was created to show off some new character animation features of Biped, a module of Character Studio,” Mike tells with me.
Within days after its release, the Dancing Baby became the de facto screensaver for anybody who considered themselves Internet elite. Mike vividly remembers the beginning of its unstoppable fame. “I think we got a call from David Kelley’s office [the Ally McBeal producer]. They wanted to know [the] royalty rates for turning the baby into a character on the show.” Autodesk’s legal department said that if Kelley bought the software, he could do anything he wanted with it. And so they did.
“I believe we did some tit-for-tat later, [like] maybe sending an animator to Hollywood to help do the character. They gave us lots of good publicity and a credit on the show. As with lots of things that get publicity, the Dancing Baby generated its own without much help from us.” Mouse pads, cups, shirts, the whole shebang followed shortly.
And one product vendor wanted to market a Halloween costume. It makes sense: We’ve long loved dressing up as Internet pieces of pop culture, and this was one of the earliest memes to become a viral sensation. It had catapulted to insane infamy, and everything was positioned so perfectly for the Dancing Baby to be the first mass-produced Hallow-meme costume ever – only, this is what the costume looked like.
While it never made it to mass production (for obvious, terrifying reasons), one of the units found its way into the Palmers’ possession – which is how Andy, for a few moments in time, was able to be the baby.
“The costume came from one of the vendors who wanted to make a Dancing Baby Halloween Costume. Both Andy and his little brother, Jonny, wore it trick-or-treating. I remember people paying Andy to do the Dancing Baby dance,” Mike says.
According to Andy, he was in 7th grade when he first wore the costume and was very excited when his dad surprised him with it – he says the dance moves came naturally to him. “My favorite memory with the costume was on New Year’s Eve for Y2K. There was a big party that my family helped put together in Palo Alto – at least 200 people,” Andy recalls. “When the clock struck midnight, I burst out of a back room fitted out in the Dancing Baby costume and started doing the dance in the middle of the dance floor in front of everyone. It was the perfect way to bring in the new Millennium!”
Unfortunately, the Dancing Baby costume never made it to store shelves, and Mike believes he has the original and only surviving unit.
But alas, it is no more. While there are plenty of meme costumes you can fashion for yourself, the ultimate one slipped through our fingers too fast. Luckily, with the Internet’s penchant for reinvention, who’s to say it won’t someday make a reappearance? Consider our fingers crossed.
Gone too soon, but never forgotten.
[Photos courtesy of the Palmer family.]