"Do you remember when Captain Kirk saw a beautiful woman, the screen would go all misty? I thought his eyes were steaming up because he was so excited. Every time I talked to a girl in my class I tried to make my eyes steam up. They called me Scary Jeff."
An especially common creature in The Sixties, the Gaussian Girl is distinguishable by her supernatural blurriness and the soft, romantic music accompanying her.
When filmed, the Gaussian Girl is shot through a soft-focus filter, a piece of translucent plastic or a quick smear of Vaseline, depending on the director's preference. This gives a soft, glowing aura to her, and smooths out any unappealing pores or lines on her face. The result makes her look nothing short of ethereal. If you can't tell a soft-focus shot, look at all of the light sources around her; if they have a starry-glare look, it's soft focus.
Depending on the show, she might only display this quality when first encountered to show that she's the Girl of the Week, or she might be blurry all the time. She'll never be blurry when a man is in the shot with her, unless they're kissing. Closeups tend to have the most blur.
Named for the Gaussian Blur effect in photo editing software.
Also, she may arouse a viewer's desire to degauss his screen. That is, until he remembers it's LCD...
You can create your own Gaussian Girl by duplicating her base layer, giving the new top layer a strong Gaussian Blur, and then setting it to about 50% opacity. If you need glasses, you can achieve a similar effect by taking them off before looking at women. If you don't, try having a lot of alcohol first. This latter technique is called the Beer Goggles effect. ("She's a 2 at 10 but a 10 at 2")
This technique has been somewhat less common since Moonlighting left the airwaves, having caused a critical shortage in the world supply of soft focus. Of the remains, some of it goes to embellishing non-human objects of desire as well these days; witness Food Porn (and generic American Porn Porn, where it is ubiquitous), as well as the Cargo Ship examples offered below. Some suggest that with the inception of High Definition film and television, which naturally shows more imperfections; that the Soft Focus trick might make a return to compensate.
This may come from a practice in the early days of film making when a piece of gauze, a sheer stocking, or Vaseline was placed over the lens of the camera to blur the image of the actresses and hide imperfections on the face. Popularized by the fabulous Carole Lombard, who spent her time in the hospital after suffering a serious facial injury devising ways in which she could hide her eventual scar. If she didn't invent the Gaussian blur, she knew the person who did.
A more limited, so to speak, application of the technique was used during the days of The Hays Code to make sure that women in low-cut dresses weren't displaying their cleavage in too much detail, thus corrupting innocent youth. A limited portion of gauze or stocking, held in a frame, could be used to blur the "offending" anatomy and render it suitable for viewers.
Has nothing to do with Gauss guns. Or electromagnetism in general. (Well, not much to do with it.)
Compare Bishie Sparkle.
Possibly the earliest anime use could have been in Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers). Queen Starsha typically appeared this way, even in scenes where she was having a normal conversation. Trelaina appeared this way througout The Comet Empire series. In fact, most of the willowy women in Leijii Matsumoto anime often appear this way: Maetel (Galaxy Express 999), Maya (Arcadia of My Youth), and Queen Millenia. Emeraldas seems to be an interesting exception to this trope, probably because she is supposed to be seen as a female version of Captain Harlock.
In the anime adaptation of Berserk this was briefly used on Casca during she and Guts' love scene. Soft, romantic music included.
In Act 1 of Sailor Moon Crystal, when Usagi and Mamoru first really look at each other, it suddenly becomes a mutual Held Gaze in soft focus, with a few Love Bubbles appearing as they stare at each other. The filter dissipates as Usagi realizes the moment's awkwardness.
Once Doris Day got a few lines on her face, she had a contract that all her closeups had to be filmed this way. It's especially noticeable when Rock Hudson is still in sharp focus, but she's fuzzy and glowing.
In WALL•E, Eve not only gets this treatment at times, but actually lives it. Her semi-translucent white plastic body scatters light, giving her an innately soft outline.
Jewel, the havoc wreaking femme fatale in One Night At McCool's, is shown this way when each of the three guys see her for the first time. She's played by Liv Tyler, who just has one of those faces.
In West Side Story, when Tony and Maria both see each other for the first time, the edges of the frame are noticeably blurred (though, this is more to create the effect that they each have eyes only for one another)
The Man in the White Suit: Particularly noticeable in a romantic scene when the camera cuts back and forth between crystal-clear shots of Alec Guinness' character and really really fuzzy shots of Joan Greenwood's character.
Sextette, a Mae West vehicle from 1978, noticeably used this technique in all of her scenes to try and portray her as a cougary seductress (her current love interest was played by Timothy Dalton). Mae was now in her eighties, and resembled a busty alien Pez dispenser. The soft-focus didn't help.
Lois Lane gets this treatment in the first Superman movie.
Pretty much all of Equilibrium is shot in a very harsh, very cold light, to drive home the concept of emotionless impersonality, except for John Preston's wife, who not only gets the gaussian treatment, but shots of her include actual colours, as opposed to the slightly desaturated/bleached out effect of Librium as a whole. There's even a sequence (as she's being arrested for sense-crime) in which she shares a shot with and kisses her husband as she's dragged away. Her side of the screen? Sparkly, glowy, soft-focus. His side? Cold, harsh, slightly desaturated hard focus. Even in the middle of the kiss.
Used as a joke in the live-action Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster, when Fred catches Daphne after she'd knocked out a barn's upper window. As the pair gaze at each other and they both realize he's saved her life, the image of Fred is blurred and soft-lit.
In the 1964 T.A.M.I concert film, the director had his cameramen put a screen with vaseline in front of the camera lens when a performer was singing a slow ballad. Most noticeable when Leslie Gore sings"You Don't Own Me".
Another Mike Myers' movie where the effect is used for laughs: The Cat in the Hat. You may be dead inside if you don't belly laugh at the effect a savage nutshot has on a 6-foot-tall cat pińata...
Parodied in Muppets Most Wanted. While Constantine is shown in a Guassian fashion during part of "I'll Get You What You Want," it's only because he is applying Vaseline to the camera lens!
The most egregious use of the Gaussian Girl was in the originalStar Trek, where Kirk's Girl of the Week would never, ever be in focus, at any point during the episode, and would always be accompanied by soft strings or woodwinds (or in the case of Edith Keeler, the song "Goodnight, Sweetheart"). This effect was achieved by a small piece of plastic placed over the lens.
In cases of extreme infatuation, Kirk isn't in focus either.
Spock also has the tendency to blur, and to a lesser extent, Bones. Uhura will almost always be blurry.
Google paid homage to this in their September 7-8, 2012 doodle celebrating the 46th anniversary of TOS's first airing. It's activated by clicking on Uhura (played by the first "o" in the logo.)
How bad is it? This happens to KHAN'S girlfriend!
Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting, as mentioned above. Perhaps the most notorious example on American television after Star Trek, as it aired in The Eighties, a decade otherwise known for grittier, more naturalistic cinematography. Unsurprisingly, Jerry Finnerman was the Director of Photography for both shows.
This always happens to Barbara Walters, but whether ABC News insists on it or whether she does is, unfortunately, unknown at this time.
Italian politician and owner of several TV stations Silvio Berlusconi had himself filmed through a nylon stocking, although definitely not a girl. Comedians joked he should've put the nylon stocking over his face instead.
In Saturday Night Live, a sketch involved Michael Moore and Phil Donahue contacting Barbra Streisand by cable. Her image is shown with a super-strong Gaussian Blur, as they comment on how young she still looks.
Also the Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds ad-parody sketch featuring Sally Field behind about four layers of gauze.
Charmed loved this trope. It was generally used on Alyssa Milano, because Phoebe was supposed to be the pretty one (although everyone secretly likes Piper best, and Paige is way sexier.)
Used when the girls first meet their mother in the first season.
In the last episode, used on Patty and Penny, because both actresses were about 25 years older than the age they were playing. Most of the time, this made sense, since the actresses playing Patty and Penny were supposed to be ghosts, so being a little fuzzy would made sense, but in the occasional scene they were made solid again, it was still there.
Used, among other effects, to indicate that a character has entered Soap Drama Mode in thisDaily Show clip lamenting the cancellation of Another World.
It also turned up in older episodes, along with massive bouquets of flowers, for Samantha Bee's interviews, to parody Barbara Walters.
Also parodied in an episode of The Goodies - Bill and a woman are in soft focus whilst kissing, when he suddenly stops, runs up to the camera and wipes the petroleum jelly off the lens.
The Kirk version is referenced by Jeff from Coupling, in the page quotation.
RuPaul used this on herself on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race (with her song Covergirl (Put the Bass in Your Walk) replacing the romantic music). How bad was it? There were times where you couldn't make out her face at all; it would just be a blurry blob with eyes. By the 2nd season, everyone on LOGO, even one of the contestants, was mocking her for it.
Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson attempted to create the romantic soft focus on a car by smearing vaseline on the camera lens. It didn't go well.
In Smallville, the first appearance of Kara shows her blurred and in a flowing white dress. Under water. When she saves Lex Luthor and flies away, he is convinced she is an angel who is there to make him repent his sins.
The sequences within the Fortress of Solitude in all get a bit gaussian...
In the First Doctor serial "The Web Planet", the Zarbi are almost always shown through a greased lens as an attempt to disguise how lousy the costumes look.
Used quite frequently on everyone in the first series of the revival for no particular reason.
Lampshaded on an episode of The Nanny. Fran qualifies to play on Jeopardy! and while backstage, Gracie tells her she looks pretty. Fran turns and says that here, looks don't matter, it's brains that count. She then turns to the cameraman and tells him, "Hey you, I want the filter they used on Liz for the White Diamonds commercial."
This effect—and other concealing camera tricks—are used throughout the music video of Divinyls' hit "I Touch Myself". Singer Christina Amphlett was trying to conceal her true age (she was about 32 at the time, probably more than a decade older than most Top 40 female pop singers).
Played with a little in Metal Gear Solid 3. When Snake knocks out Ocelot, soon to be his Stalker with a Crush, we see through Ocelot's eyes. He's losing consciousness, and so Snake is fully Gaussianed and even appears to sparkle a little in the light.
Parodied twice in Futurama. Zoidberg spots a lobster in a tank this way (and ends up leaving the bar with it) in an early episode, Love's Labours Lost in Space, back before Flanderization had rendered him the perennial loveless loser. And in the episode "Bendless Love", when Bender first sees Anglelyne, she appears out of focus - until the foreman orders the dirty glass in front of her removed.
This is also inverted as the glass is curved, distorting and muting her curvy body.