You are never too young to dance

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By Trellawny Graham

I can’t stop this feeling, deep inside me.  Kid, you just don’t see, what you do to me.  When you wiggle across my TV, through my Internet, do you see me?

Everybody’s hooked on the dancing baby.

Baby Cha, the dancing baby, or Phen (short for baby Phenom) as I’ll refer to the rugrat, originated back in 1996 out of the skilled hands of California computer technician Ron Lussier.  However, like the baby’s dance, there are a few strange twists to Phen’s birth canal.

Phen and his counterparts — a monster, an alien, a chimpanzee, a woman, a harlequin (a clown sporting a diamond-patterend suit) come in a software package called “Characters Studio.”  These characters, called demo figures, are laid like skins on top of skeletons, called motion files.  Then the motion files are choreographed with such application files a running, ballet steps, drunken staggering and Cha Cha moves.

Some guys at a company called Kinetix put the baby and a somewhat crippled dancing skeleton together.  Lussier saw it but wasn’t impressed with the glitches in the animation so he and work buddy John Chadwick got hold of the baby.  Lussier fixed it by modifying the movements, colours, texture, and lighting.  Voila!  The baby had some stylin’ grooves, yet no tunes to bop its baby butt to — Phen was conceived.

Lussier slid his baby through e-mail to a few people at his workplace.  And thus began his fabulous gestation period.

Shortly after, Phen became a popular lunch time desktop entertainment in the office.  Those in-company people started getting Phen e-mails from outside-company people as the embryonic Phen caught on. He’d survived the ultrasounds, the probing, the hatred, the amazement, the labour — Phen was born.

“I try not to get wound up about it,” says Lussier, who is fairly laid back about Phen’s paternity.  “It’s not so much ‘mine.’  I just made it famous.”

Kinetix says that Lussier’s contribution was just a lucky fluke in the kid’s path to fame since Lussier essentially remodeled something the company had left undone.  Knetix copyrighted the unblinking munchkin (watch him closely), but only partially, because they had to incorporate Lussier’s name since only the original crippled choreography belongs to Kinetix.  They put Lussier at the bottom of the list of contributors, leaving the fedup dad a little put out with all the copyright battles taking place.  Phen’s use by other doesn’t cost anything even though Phen’s parentage is generally known.  Unfortunately for Lussier, he can’t collect for the idea because he’s unable to prove his parentage.  Lussier’s unprotected sex with a free-for-all idea has left him contaminated with a no royalties disease.

Regardless, Lussier’s baby romped his way into the world at a good pace, considering that he’s just been born.  Forget baby’s first steps, he’s already got a dancing career.

Strange, wouldn’t you say?  The producers of the prime time television hit Ally McBeal came upon Phen and thought he was no stranger than the main character Ally herself.  On the show, he cavorts to his signature Ooga Chaka music (mysteriously added to his routine on the Net one day) as well as his now signature cover song “Hooked on a Feeling.”  If you aren’t familiar with the show, Ally has a biological clock going tick, tick, tick and Phen is her hallucinated baby.  You know he’s coming when you hear the Ooga Chaka tunes (originally courtesy of band Blue Swede).  Phen’s reoccurring role in the show has sprouted the little guy into a household name.

Say it with me: Baby Phen is a toddler now.

“Well, fame certainly gave it a boost,” says Lussier.  “But in general, I’ve been disappointed with the quality of much of the work that has shown up featuring the baby even some of my own.”

It never fails that those behind publicly exhibited work see where their product has gone awry.  Creators, parents if you will, see their kids as they are.  They don’t get to take fresh looks and make all of those crazy judgments that audiences do.  The general audience can appreciate baby Phen as he is — cute and somewhat freakish.

“As computer graphics go, it’s kind of a cool one,” says Chloe Lewis, a first-year radio and television arts student.

“It’s funny!” laughs Carolyn Lamb, another RTA student.  Of course it is — it has no eyelids!  IT has tufts of skin that don’t move the way tufts of skin over babies’ eyes should.

“I think it’s kind of scary looking,” says Chatherine Ellis, a first-year dance student.  She has a point here.  The new 104.5 CHUM FM television commercial that features Phen was strategically aired during the season premiere of Ally  McBeal.

The commercial is crazy; there are a dozen Phens dancing around, swinging on ropes like Indiana Jones, doing the Macarena.  A CHUM FM employee said the frequently rotated commercial was selected the “most liked” of about 10 promo commercials viewered by a group of testers.  The ad concept came from Ally McBeal, not the Net.

“Everybody’s mesmerized by this stinkin’ baby,” says Jay Cunningham, and administration and information management student.  “But it’s a pain in the ass.”

Lewis agrees.

“It’s a quintessential pop culture [fad],” she says.  “It’s novel, it’s funny, but it will be gone in six months.”

In the United States, there is even a Phen doll out on the shelves.  Rosie O’Donnell had one on her show last month.  The package says that the toy baby dances, but it’s really a one-frame pose of the diapered runt spinning around sort of sideways on a platform rockin’ to “Hooked on a Feeling.”  As Rose says, it’s a good thing there is a shut off switch.

Phen has risen to what many feel will be greatest fame — even Lussier agrees.  He’s ready to help the kid grow up, but he’s also tempted to kill it.

“I’m sort of proud of it and I sort of have it here,” he says.  “But it’s nice to see something that’s partially my work reach so many people.”

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