Shatner toon lets the audience drive

'Zenoids' uses social networking to select creatives

Finding an audience for a new animated project is a daunting task, even for “The Zenoids,” which features the voice of William Shatner, as well as being backed by the actor. Knowing the passion sci-fi fans have for the genre, Shatner and his partners on the project are building an audience by bringing fans into the creative process through a social network called MyOuterSpace.com.

Members of the site have participated in contests for animators and writers for a series of Web shorts that creative director Sammy Oriti hopes will prove popular enough to land a TV deal. Now, the site has moved on to music, opening a contest for theme song submissions that will run through early November, with finalists judged by composer Michael Giacchino, Shatner and “Sanctuary” star Amanda Tapping. The site’s members will vote on the winner.

“What we’re trying to do is involve our audience in the making of our projects from the very beginning,” Shatner says. That ranges from soliciting input on plots and character designs, and could get as specific as deciding between shots and segues, he says.

Previous contests were won by animator Jeremy Appleman, who joined the staff of MyOuterSpace.com and designed the clip the theme song entrants will score to; and writer Rhonda Eudaly, who submitted a script and had her dialogue used in voice-recording sessions with Shatner and Tapping.

Oriti, who co-created the Kids WB animated series “Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island,” launched MyOuterSpace.com 1 1/2 years ago with a splashy Comic-Con presentation. Shatner’s posting the news on Twitter earned the site an impressive 12 million visits.

The site boasts some 15,000 members, Oriti says, who are divided by talent or area of interest such as acting or writing or videogames, and into “planets” that are overseen by the likes of Giacchino, sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster and vidgame designer Paul Barnett.

Oriti says tapping into the fan base and developing talent that can execute ideas was central to the idea for the site. “It was always our mandate to go out there and find the next Michael Giacchino,” he says.

Giacchino says he thinks the networking aspect is especially valuable for people interested in composing. “When artists find other artists that they love to work with, they more than likely will continue to work with them throughout their career,” he says.

The series has recorded its webisodes and is looking at options for animating them. Syfy Channel has expressed some interest, Oriti and Shatner say. The project has garnered a significant amount of press that Shatner expects will give the show an advantage in its bid to land a home on television.

Shatner says he thinks this kind of process has a certain logic behind it. “It seems to me it’s a natural evolution from getting an audience interested in the making of a project to the making of it and exhibiting of it to that very audience.”

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