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Randolph Zaini was sound designer before he even knew it existed

Randolph Zaini

Randolph Zaini is the eldest of three siblings. Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, he spent most of his childhood telling bedtime stories to his younger sister and brother. He would use his G.I. Joe action figures to tell stories of betrayal, romance, and comedy, and create different voices for each character. He would blow his mouth to make wind or rain noises for ambiance. He would scat the sound of gunfire for the battle scenes. Before he knew sound design existed, he had already been doing it since he was eight years old, using nothing but his voice; it has always been a part of him. Now, he is an internationally celebrated sound designer, with audiences much larger than his two siblings, but that same instinct is still his passion.

After working on over forty projects in the sound department, Zaini has worked his way up to being recognized as one of the best sound designers to come from Indonesia. He has worked on award-winning films, including Paper Tiger and The Ballerina, Her Shoemaker & His Apprentice, and has been recognized specifically for his talents in sound design on the international stage at film festivals. All those that work with him know he is truly exceptional at what he does, adding value to every film he embarks on.

“Randolph is a brilliant and hardworking story-driven sound designer. His sound design adds another layer of storytelling onto the picture. He breaks down and identifies the characters’ wants, needs, and fears, to create the tone of each segment. His sound design carries the mood that the storyteller intends to convey. With the story progression, his sound design also progresses - creating an acoustic structure catered to the story,” said cinematographer Xing-Mai Deng. “It is not usual for the sound designer to sit down with the director and give story feedback, but for Randolph, he not only sees his job as designing the sound, but also sees it as telling the story with the director and so, for him, sound design is not about making the sounds match the picture, it is more about telling the story with the elements that are not in the frame.”

Deng worked alongside Zaini on several successful films, including Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, and Nicky Martin: Country Superstar. The two first collaborated on the film Harold’s Fish Sticks, a comedy that tells the story of a tough cop who wages a war on crime - and frozen food.

“The environment during the filming was fast-paced yet encouraged us to be creative and to experiment with approaches other than what was planned. From these experiments, we produced results that were even better than intended. It was a very enjoyable collaborative effort, with the entire team being on board and supportive,” said Zaini.

In addition to Deng, Zaini worked alongside Director Brian Rhodes, who pitched the project to the sound designer as a hybrid live-action and animation mock commercial. Something like this allowed for Zaini to use maximum creativity.

“Working on this was a blast. The key crew in this project, Xing-Mai and Brian, came from two very different backgrounds. While Xing-Mai was very grounded in the production aspects with physical lighting capturing the scene, Brian had a much more ‘freestyle’ approach. As a sound person, I was in a position of bridging the two, always conscious about both the production recording while at the same time planning on effects used during the post production process,” Zaini described.

The film premiered at the prestigious Telly Awards in 2014, where it won the Bronze Telly Award. Such success could not have been possible without Zaini’s unique flair for sound. In a pivotal scene, there is an interrogation between a police detective and a defiant anthropomorphic fish stick. Most of the sound design was done on set. Zaini accomplished this by recording various effects from found objects during the filming. These recorded sound clips were later used in the film to breathe life into the animated character.

“It was a happy surprise to say the least that the film won an award. Especially since Telly Awards is one of the most prestigious awards honoring the best in TV, broadcast and streaming products,” Zaini said.

Zaini doesn’t go to work each day for the recognition or the awards, he goes because he undoubtedly loves what he does. There is a passion for sound in him that is only found in the best, and there is a reason he is such a good sound designer.

“Sound designing for movies involves conjuring landscapes and instilling them with rhythm and tension using environmental elements surrounding the scene, on top of non-diegetic sounds. We strive to move the audience’s subconscious. A subtle ticking clock can spike tension during an uncomfortable dialogue scene. A wave of howling winds, or the sudden absence of forest creatures makes all the difference on how we empathize with the characters on the screen. The video is the canvas, and the audio clips are the paint. Shades and layers of sounds on top of one another enrich the story beyond what’s on the paper and what’s on the screen,” he said.

Zaini doesn’t just see his role as imputing and enhancing the noises the audiences hears, he sees it as an art, and because of this, the audiences hears it as one.

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