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Gaussian Girl

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Scientists have proven that Captain Kirk shows up to 80% more sexual arousal when exposed to the right-hand picture.

"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."
Jeff Murdock, Coupling, "The Girl with Two Breasts"

An especially common creature in films from The Golden Age of Hollywood, the Gaussian Girl is distinguishable by her supernatural blurriness and by the soft, romantic music accompanying her.

When filmed, the Gaussian Girl is shot through a soft-focus filter, a piece of translucent plastic, very sheer silk, or a quick smear of Vaseline, depending on the director's and/or cinematographer's preference. This surrounds her with a softly glowing aura, 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 or halo 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. A limited application of the technique was also used during the days of The Hays Code to cover up partially-exposed breasts. The technique may also be used for embellishing non-human objects of desire as well, or to accompany a Dream Sequence, Fantasy Sequence, or nostalgic Flashback.

Named for the Gaussian Blur effect in photo editing software.note  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.

There is some physiological justification for the "soft focus = appealing" relationship. Desire is one of the things that makes a person's pupils dilate. A side-effect of this dilation is to slightly shift the eye's focus into the distance, making anything closer just that little bit more blurry. With experience, the observer's capacity for visual perception learns to correlate cause and effect, and the effect becomes supporting evidence for the cause.

Has nothing to do with Gauss guns. Or electromagnetism in general. (Well, not much to do with it.)

Compare Bishie Sparkle. Sub-Trope of In-Camera Effects.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Gail Simone's run of Wonder Woman Vol 3, Tom Tressner remembers Wonder Woman proposing to him with a Gaussian effect. If there was one woman to use this on, Diana would be it.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • Rio repeatedly applies this to Jewel (a female macaw; the protagonist's a male one). It's later used on Linda, but only when she wears a macaw costume.
  • Played for Laughs in Antz during Z and Bala's romantic moment at Insectopia; Bala's face is blurred as Z goes in for a kiss, before he is rudely interrupted by the other insects around the fire, requesting him to get more firewood.
    Z: Hey, ever wonder why they call you guys "pests"?
  • Happens when Hiccup first sees Astrid in How to Train Your Dragon (2010), helped by the fact that there's a massive exploding fireball behind her.
  • In Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Cloud has visions of Aerith in a Gaussian Girl way (though he himself is also Gaussianed in the visions).
  • Turning Red: Carter, a Pretty Boy schoolmate, appears surrounded by a blurry pink filter when Mei checks him out.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Carole Lombard used this technique many times to hide a facial scar.
  • The angelically beautiful elves in The Lord of the Rings movies displayed this quality for both genders, particularly for Liv Tyler's Arwen.
  • Max Reinhardt and cinematographer Hal Mohr, in creating the 1935 film version of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream used this effect for the fairies and their world.
  • Used in the first shot of the love interest in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. (On the other hand, much of the film seems to be shot like this...)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones was shot this way in the movie The Mask of Zorro.
  • Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca.
  • No less than Alfred Hitchcock used it in Vertigo, as handy shorthand for "Love at First Sight". This was also the film that pioneered the much-less-cliched Vertigo Effect, just to show that there's highs and lows to cinematic creativity.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lester's visions of Angela in American Beauty. Due to the massive age gap involved, it stops being romantic and comes across as Squicky.
  • Sophie Maes first appears this way in the film version of How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.
  • Parodied with Lady Helen Port-Huntley and Narcissa in The Saddest Music in the World.
  • Done for laughs in Wayne's World. When Wayne first sees Cassandra, she's on stage aggressively singing "Let me stand next to your fire". Wayne's view of her is in Gaussian and he hears "Dream Weaver".
    • This is also a running joke with Garth's crush, played by Donna Dixon, who appears to the "Romeo and Juliet" overture, slow-motion flying hair and all.
  • 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 piñata...
  • Close-ups of Donna Reed are slightly blurred in It's a Wonderful Life.
  • One or two close-ups of Saunders in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but it's mainly used to show her becoming captivated by Smith's idealism.
  • Used with the Child-like Empress in The Neverending Story, to make her look...child-like.
  • Used in Telstar when Joe first sees Heinz.
  • In West Side Story (1961), 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 cougar-y 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.
  • A jarring example near the beginning of Sherlock Holmes (2009), cutting quickly back and forth between Robert Downey Jr. and Rachel McAdams where he was shot without blur, but she and her surroundings were slightly out-of-focus.
  • 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 concert film T.A.M.I. Show, the director had his cameramen put a screen with vaseline in front of the camera lens when a performer was singing a slow ballad. It's most noticeable when Lesley Gore sings "You Don't Own Me".
  • Parodied in Muppets Most Wanted. While Constantine is shown in a Gaussian fashion during part of "I'll Get You What You Want," it's only because he is applying Vaseline to the camera lens!
  • In The Sound of Music, when Maria and the captain dance the Landler, the gaussian effect on Julie Andrews is used to show how the captain starts seeing Maria differently.
  • Fanny: Used multiple times to make Leslie Caron look just that much more beautiful.
  • The Red Mill: Played for a gag. Tina, a scullery maid, is Marion Davies de-glammed, with almost no makeup and freckles showing. Tina sees a jar of Mud Massage Face Beautifier, and smears the mud massage on her face. When she takes it off she is gleaming, gorgeous Marion Davies, with a soft-focus Gaussian Girl effect.
  • Lampshaded for a bizarre joke in Ginger and Fred. Pippo, a dancer getting ready backstage at a variety show, sits next to a woman in a strange outfit. The woman wears a sort of metal rig that holds a pane of glass in front of her face. When Pippo asks what's her deal, the woman says that it's "a soft focus screen" and "it makes me look younger." Then the woman looks through the glass at the camera and delivers some TV news patter.
  • The 1974 film adaptation of Mame with Lucille Ball in the title role makes liberal use of soft focus to cover for the fact that Ball was in her early 60s; this is particularly jarring when the camera alternates between close-ups of her and much sharper close-ups of her co-stars.

  • Referenced in Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey. As part of the aftereffect of an alien plague that blinded her, one of the characters notes that the world is still blurry, and thinks that it makes her love interest look like a movie star.
  • Rabbit at Rest: Discussed Trope. As his granddaughter flips channels on the TV, Harry sees Greer Garson "looking gently out of focus in black and white."
  • And in Valley of the Dolls as Jennifer turns forty, after having been in a number of French art films, she plans to return to America to make movies there: she trusts her manager to make sure there's "silk on the camera" and soft lighting, and for situations like personal appearances, where she can't fully conceal her age from reporters' flash cameras, maybe she can imitate Greta Garbo and hide from the cameras.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The most egregious use of the Gaussian Girl was in the original Star 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 and Nurse Chapel often is, especially when she's talking to Spock.
    • Spock Prime was given this treatment in J. J. Abrams Star Trek (2009). Make of that what you will.
    • 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. Perhaps the most notorious example on American television after Star Trek, as it aired in The '80s, a decade otherwise known for grittier, more naturalistic cinematography. Unsurprisingly, Jerry Finnerman was the Director of Photography for both Moonlighting and Star Trek. In scenes of Cybill talking to co-star Bruce Willis, the contrast was startling as Cybill was heavily misted while Bruce had intensely gritty photography.
    • Lampshaded in "The Straight Poop" when a camera crew investigating why there's no new episode ambushes Maddie and films her without the usual soft focus. Maddie ducks back into her office and emerges holding a sheet of gauze in front of her face.
  • This always happens to Barbara Walters, but whether ABC News insisted on it or whether she does is 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.
    • 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 this Daily Show clip lamenting the cancellation of Another World.
  • 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.
  • The first season of RuPaul's Drag Race was notorious for this. Not only was it present throughout the show, but RuPaul had an extra-strong version used on herself. How bad was it? As far as anyone could tell, the show was hosted by a brown blob with eyes that vaguely resembled a drag queen. The second season fortunately got rid of the filter, since by that point, everyone on LOGO, even some of the contestants, were mocking her for it. This trope was also invoked by the fact that Drag Race is not shot in HD, but "Stunning Standard Definition." At least, until the show's Channel Hop to VH1.
  • 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.
  • The New Adventures of Old Christine seemed to use this in every episode.
  • In the original Mission: Impossible, this was used with some frequency on Cinnamon.
  • Smallville:
    • The first appearance of Kara/Supergirl 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 all get a bit Gaussian...
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Daleks", closeups of the Thals are shot this way to indicate that they are an Inhumanly Beautiful Race.
    • 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.
    • In "Terror of the Zygons", the Doctor is shot in extreme closeup like this when he uses his Hypnotic Eyes on Sarah Jane, although it's less to hide imperfections or indicate attractiveness than to indicate Sarah's half-conscious mental state.
    • Used quite frequently on everyone in the first series of the revival for no particular reason.
  • In the second season of Space: 1999, almost every close-up shot of Dr. Russell is noticeably soft-focus and low contrast. Commander Koenig sometimes also gets the same treatment.
  • The White Queen: Gaussian Guy in Richard of Gloucester's case; when he saves Anne Neville's life at the Battle of Tewkesbury, he undergoes a few soft-focus shots to seem misty and dream-like from her perspective. This symbolizes Anne's sheer disbelief at being reunited with her dearest friend after their families go to war, and now that they're older, their youthful Puppy Love has matured into Unresolved Sexual Tension.
  • Used in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when after Will tries to uptalk Carlton at a dinner with his domineering girlfriend Jeanette to get her to break up with him and saddle Carlton with her instead. Carlton finds her rude and bullying behavior just as intolerable and against all expectations puts her in her place. Will hides at the other end of the fire to dodge Jeanette's hellish wrath, but then the blur activates. Turns out she's really into controlling men.
  • 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."''
  • Used in The Monkees episode "The Chaperone" when Micky had to be disguised as a woman to fool some guy. Although the disguise was comically unconvincing to the viewers, the target male's first enraptured view of "her" was in obvious soft-focus.
  • Used with Tiffani Amber Thiessen on Dinner at Tiffani's on the Cooking Channel to an almost absurd degree. The cuts between her and her guests make one wonder if the high-definition feed is cutting in and out.
  • Used in American Gods when Shadow meets Ostara. Considering she's a love/fertility goddess, it's implied to be a function of her divinity (later in the episode, Shadow meets an incarnation of Jesus who is surrounded by a literal glowing halo of light).
  • Used to marvelous effect on Michelle Monaghan in an episode of The Path that is supposed to take place in Giverny, Francenote . It's all art-directed and photographed like a classic French film from the '60s, where you'd expect to see Anouk Aimee or Catherine Deneuve who were often filmed this way.

  • 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).
  • The closeup shots of both girls in the Abba video for "Take A Chance on Me".
  • The scenes of the woman in Gavin DeGraw's video for "Best I Ever Had" were shot this way, which along with the slow-motion and her dance-like movements gave her an incredibly ethereal feel.

    Tabletop Games 
  • There's Shout-Out "Soft Focus" spell... in "Nymphology. Blue Magic" (Mongoose Publishing, Encyclopaedia Arcane series).

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Also parodied in The Simpsons, when the Comic Book Guy first spots a geekily beautiful fangirl, he sees her in a classic Star Trek soft-focus-and-music moment, while her braces play light over his startled face.
    • And then there's Homer's experience with boudoir photography, in which the photographer smears Vaseline on the lens with a trowel ("Light is not your friend").
  • Parodied in Sheep in the Big City when Sheep sees Swanky the Poodle for the first time. He then wipes away the fog on a glass screen in front of her.
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Opposites", Cyborg sees Jinx this way the first time.
  • The Ever After High character Darling has this as a superpower: time literally slows down when she flips her hair. She uses this liberally and effectively in combat.

Alternative Title(s): Soft Focus