The plot of the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home revolves around the main characters traveling back in time from the 23rd century to 1986, in order to obtain and bring back a pair of humpback whales, which have become extinct at some point between the two points in time.

The motivation is driven by a space probe traveling to Earth in the 23rd century and making a futile attempt to contact any existing whales, unwittingly damaging the biosphere and putting the Federation population in grave danger. The probe's origin and, in particular, its creators, are generally a mystery in the film, but evidently have some connection with humpback whales as a sentient species.

When the main characters travel back in time, a short and mysterious film sequence occurs, representing their journey in various cryptic ways - representations of the crewmembers' heads appearing in an eerie cloud of smoke, dialogue from later in the film, a representation of a human figure falling from space down to Earth as the crew arrive in 1986.

Much of this is reasonably understandable, but one piece remains more of a mystery: through much of the sequence, the camera is traveling towards the mysterious figure shown below.

Image of cryptic figure seen in film's time travel sequence

This is the obvious focal point of much of the sequence, but it is never explained in the film whether or not this figure represents a specific object or a more general concept. However, it does appear (for lack of a better term) whale-ish without directly representing a humpback whale.

A question that naturally follows is whether it represents something to do with the species that originally created the space probe, even potentially relating to their own appearance.

Has it been confirmed exactly what this figure is supposed to represent?

Ideally in something related to film canon (e.g., descriptive shooting scripts, written novelization or comic adaptation), but barring that, in any other relevant material (e.g., discussion of special effects design).

  • 2
    From the script; We are inside Kirk's MIND as we see a series of hypnotic dream images floating up from Kirk's subconscious; undulating figures which float toward us and pass...Liquid faces... amorphous figures... images of Kirk's shipmates in semi-transparent ghostly shapes -- aging and regressing. Kirk's image of himself running toward himself... underwater looking up at a sunlight-dappled surface... gently waving strands of reeds at an abstract shoreline... disembodied voices, sounds and music add to the hypnotic effect. And then...
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 22:11
  • 1
    No help in the comic novelisation; i.sstatic.net/XcAFZ.jpg
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • 1
    No help in the official novelisation; Glimpses of his past returned to him at random. He saw the Enterprise exploding out of space and burning in the atmosphere of Genesis. He saw David Marcus lying dead among the ruins of his dreams. He saw Spock as a youth-on Genesis, Spock had aged. But Jim's memory crept backward and the aging reversed. The Vulcan's living body grew younger. As the images flowed faster and faster, Jim watched all his friends become younger and younger. Spock had changed least, in the time that Jim had known him, for the life of a Vulcan spanned more time than any human's
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • 1
    McCoy lost the lines that years in space had drawn in his face, till he looked as he had when James T. Kirk, lieutenant's stripes fresh on his sleeves, first met him. Jim remembered Mr. Scott, who had been doubtful at first of a brash young captain's ability to command the finest ship in Starfleet. He remembered Carol Marcus, as she had been when he returned her to earth, as she had been when they parted so many years before, as she was when they first met., etc
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • Thanks @Valorum, I had a feeling about the novelization, having read it years ago (and unfortunately losing my copy eventually). The script notes you mentioned are along the lines of what I was hoping for, and hadn't found in the scripts I looked at online - I like some of the details in that one even if it doesn't get at my exact question.
    – dplmmr
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 22:37

2 Answers 2


That's a whale, or, rather, a quite stylized depiction of a whale owing to the limited computer graphics technology available at the time the movie was made.

I found the answer in a documentary made in 1987 by UK's Open University about Computer Aided Design. It looked at how the dream sequence was made in ST IV and interviewed the people at ILM responsible for creating it. The commentator states at 8:45, while showing the first appearance of the shape in question:

"The finish sequence also required this image of a whale. This was hand-traced from a clay model using the 3D digitizer."

The video can be found on Youtube, I've included two links in case one of them vanishes:

Unfortunately, it would seem that the original material isn't available publicly from UK's Open University website.

  • 7
    An excellent find
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 12:16
  • 10
    You mean it's a whale of a find
    – Machavity
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 12:36
  • 3
    Wow, I've been doing too much LDS. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 14:53
  • 1
    A perfectly sourced answer, I was hoping for something like this when the more direct references in the script and adaptations did not pan out.
    – dplmmr
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 17:55
  • "...a quite stylized depiction of a whale owing to the limited computer graphics technology available at the time the movie was made." I don't think the graphical capabilities of the computers had anything to do with it, given that they could render faces.
    – Bobby
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 18:38

I worked with Nilo Rodis Jamiro on this sequence. We edited the film images created by ILM and worked them them into a sequence with disolves that was used to develop the the film optical FX. There was no discussion of the significance, only the artistic flow of the images. In my mind it is a visual poem that still plays well 35 years later as I watch the film on Amazon Prime this afternoon.


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