Array of Stars (AOS) is a creative collective of technologists, designers and UX professionals producing world-class web experiences and digital installations. With a devotion to craft, they’re steadily recalibrating industry standards and production models as the world’s cultural paradigms evolve faster than ever before. Their mission is to push through the clutter and see their best work shape society to become more inclusive of novel ideas and people.
AOS is the brainchild of co-founders Alistair Leyland and Cole Sullivan, a merging of their disciplines and passion for hard work. Five years into the AOS story, they’re delivering multi-platform, reality-crossing projects that look and feel less like commissioned, branded content than they do a hybrid of science experiment and digital art. But while they’re thinking and doing big, they remain approachable. “We have the talent,” says Leyland. “But we’re still underdogs making our way up. We know nothing will be handed to us.”
Leyland attended the Canadian Film Centre’s Producer’s Lab after his film—The Making of a Martyr—won top honours at the United Nations Documentary Festival in New York City. It was 2008: the iPhone just released, Facebook only a few years old. Exposed to industry leaders from media giants such as Telefilm, Bell and Corus, Leyland saw the entertainment industry shifting, money once available for film and television growing scarce while digital was just getting started. He joined leading-edge creative shop Jam3 as a biz-dev consultant in 2011, where he met award-winning art director Cole Sullivan – who was obsessively pushing the boundaries of design to adapt it to new mediums. After collaborating on a run of nimble projects with big impact – global acclaim and accolades – their entrepreneurial spirit suggested they give it a go on their own.
“We were used to six-figure productions,” says Leyland. “In the early days of AOS, what we underestimated was our ability to go out and immediately land that calibre of work. Our first two years were incredibly lean. We were in survival mode. Cole lived in our studio; I was upstairs in the same building. It was humbling. We don’t forget that, nor do we take anything for granted.” But the salad days didn’t last. After defining a visual identity for celebrated Toronto restaurateurs Grant van Gameren, Cory Vitiello and Janet Zuccarini, they brought on their third partner – technology director Ben Clarke. Together, AOS entered a period of growth that saw them double in size year over year, moving out of their old brick and beam studio to a larger space where they feel they’ve hit their stride. Currently, clients such as RBC, Sony Pictures Television, VISA, Autumn Growth, Stafford Homes, Herradura Tequila and Sick Kids Foundation are keeping them hustling.
Leyland’s proud of the work AOS is doing for this year’s Nuit Blanche arts festival. Outside Toronto’s City Hall, they’ll costume a car with 90,000 LEDs and – by way of tech magic – bring the car to life as it responds to people’s every move. It’s the first big ‘offline’ commission for AOS, a direction they’ve found themselves headed of late. For the Art Gallery of Ontario’s ‘Massive’ party, they built a 40-foot interactive video wall that danced with the partygoers. The Ontario Ministry of Innovation tapped them to develop a touchscreen game that could be operated remotely to promote aerospace at the Paris, Beijing and Vegas air shows. Next is Toronto Public Library’s ‘Hush Hush’ event, to grow awareness of the freely accessible technologies available at anyone’s local branch. “Every day we are very much petrified, and invigorated, and empowered,” says Leyland. He uses the story of Wayne Gretzky and the 1983 Oilers walking by the winning New York Islanders’ dressing room to illustrate. There was no celebration post-game. Rather, the Islanders were exhausted, beaten down, taping wounds and picking up teeth. Only then did the Great One understand what was required to win it all: a lot of hard work, hard hits, sacrifice.
It’s how Array of Stars is pioneering an innovative legacy in the Canadian media landscape.
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