The Paranormal Unicorn is an audio-visual artist collective that specialises in stage design, based in Vienna, Austria. The group was founded in 2011 with an aim to create striking content and immersive installations for global brands, music festivals, clubs and entertainers, alike. Clients, including Red Bull, Mars, Bombay Sapphire, and Zalando, have worked with the team to create innovative solutions that blend the latest technologies with creative strategies, from small installations to full-scale festival stage design. The team, comprised of Stefan Herbert (SH), Dominik Hell-Weltzl and Connie Yang, utilise, manipulate and experiment to create immersive and spectacular solutions with light.
TiL: You describe Paranormal Unicorn as a new media agency; can you tell us what you create?
SH: We like lights. We concentrate on creating projects that involve light in any shape or form. Sometimes we make set pieces for music videos, other times we design stages for music festivals or create permanent light installations in clubs. The most fun projects are those that involve multiple areas of expertise. We are always finding new ways to combine what we are good at with a new area we’ve never thought of. Usually this involves using technology, so we spend a lot of time at hacker labs finding the newest toys to play with. The process is very child-like in many ways and having fun is one of our most important values.
TiL: Whats the greatest challenge when working with light?
SH: Our biggest challenge is the peculiar relationship between design and reality. I think this is true of most design fields that have to abide by the laws of physics. There are so many ideas that look stunning when rendered in 3D but ultimately you are at the mercy of physics. Because our work is always bespoke, we can’t use the typical tools from the lighting industry that give you great pre visualisations. Instead, we create all of our designs in 3D, simulate the light as best we can and then get to work on making those designs a reality. The only thing that helps is the harsh and brutally honest feedback of the real world. I’ll be the first to admit that there have been projects that were quite underwhelming in comparison to the pre visualisation we had created, but every project is a learning experience. We’ve been told on multiple occasions that we shouldn’t be working on big events if I don’t have the experience, but if you’re working on something that’s never been done before, no one can foresee the problems that you’ll inevitably encounter.
TiL: What influences you and your team?
SH: Dreams. Nature. Science. Pinterest.
We take our inspiration from a lot of sources but our secret weapon is recombination. In the creative field, you run into a lot of specialists but there’s not much cross-pollination. We borrow ideas from all different fields for our designs and find the best people from that field to collaborate with. We’ve worked with an origami artist to create a stage prototype before. We’ve sent an algorithm across several different countries in order to get a perfect 3D moebius. We’ve teamed up with fashion designers when we didn’t know how to work with cloth. Whenever we find something we know nothing about, we get excited. Because we know that there’s a collaboration just waiting to happen.
TiL: Do you have philosophy to your design work, or a certain approach to project?
SH: Don’t be afraid to be seen as stupid. Because we try to add elements from different fields, we usually have to start at the beginning. We find people who are smarter than us and then ask questions. A lot of questions. There is a lot that you can miss when people assume that you already have knowledge in a field.
TiL: What advice would you give the lighting industry to help them meet the needs of lighting designers?
SH: We enjoy simplicity. Most of our work stems from a very simple idea with a complicated execution. We like the devices that we work with to have a similar simplicity. There has been a strong movement to make everything “smart”. While the ease of use is awesome once everything is set up right, the process of setting up can take up so much time and there is no such thing as plug and play anymore. If we really need something to work for a long time without human intervention, we tend to make it out of analogue parts. They’re just more reliable.
TiL: Are there gaps in the product market you wish were filled?
SH: The rise of cheap LED strip from China led to a lot of hobbyists getting involved in pixel mapping, which was great for the industry. However, the lighting industry never fully embraced this newfound group of creators and didn’t cater many products to them. There are some hobby stores that are doing very well because of this hobby group such as Adafruit. But there are only a handful of viable commercial products that can be used to control LED tape these days.
The team from The Paranormal Unicorn will be at Trends in Lighting 2018.