Randolph Zaini is more than a sound designer. He is an artist; the video is his canvas and audio clips are his paint. He is a storyteller, and sound is both the setting and the characters. He sees sound as one of the most important aspects of a film, and those that have seen his work can hear this immediately. There is no doubt as to why he is so sought-after in his industry.
Of all the films he has worked on, with many esteemed awards and praise, the highlight of Zaini’s career he says is working on the film Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, which was just shortlisted for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The film tells the story of a young mosquito brought out by her mother on her first hunt for blood. The issue, however, is that she doesn’t like blood, and but fears disappointing her mother. Though the main story is simple and clear, there is a complex message underneath. It has much to do with being accepted for who you are. It exemplifies the best form of storytelling, where it can both entertain and illuminate.
“It was a great screenplay filled with heartwarming and funny moments,” said Zaini.
Since the story deals with opposing perspectives, it is imperative to give the appropriate sound design treatment on each subject matter. The mother has set her eyes on a single human: a slob who lives alone in his dingy apartment. When there is a switch back and forth between the perspectives of said human and the mosquitoes, audiences should hear the differences in ambiance. Everything feels gigantic in the perspective of the mosquitoes, even the air feels heavier; they are in the land of giant beings. Although Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is a hybrid live-action/animation, there was no production sound provided to Zaini, even on the live-action part of the film. This meant on top of creating every bit of audio clips for the mosquitoes, he also had to recreate the sounds of the human character, played by a live actor, from scratch as well.
“Every bit of sound that the animated character made, from the mosquitoes’ helmets, suits, boots and blood-bag was created by me in the foley recording studios. As for the human character, I also performed all his movement sounds, which then got a frequency manipulation treatment to make him feel gigantic when seen through the eyes of the mosquitoes,” Zaini described.
The film ended up becoming a large success after premiering at the prestigious Telly Awards, where it won Best Animated Short. In addition to BAFTA, it was an Official Selection at the Chinese International New Media Short Film Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Haryana International Film Festival, African International Film Festival, 9th CMS International Children’s Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, New Voices in Black Cinema, and more. It has gained offers for representation by CAA, WME, Paradigm and Verve. None of this could have been possible without Zaini’s work as sound designer, and he was recognized for it with the Outstanding Sound Award nomination at the 2017 First Look Film Festival.
“It was incredible. We make these movies to connect with audiences, to tell a story worth telling, with a hidden message worth sharing. Winning awards is always secondary. But I’d be lying if I say winning Telly Award for the second time did not give any affirmation that I was doing something right, that my passion was not misguided, and that people do appreciate the result of hard work and the vast amount of passion being put into it,” said Zaini.
The detail Zaini put in to each and every sound in the film is outstanding. To create the sound of the mosquito wings, he used a combination of hummingbird wings flapping, plastic cards being run through bicycle spokes, and small airplane engines flying in the air, among other sounds that helped sell the integrity of the wings that carry these mosquitoes. Every single sound file was designed with the storytelling effectiveness in mind.
“Randolph is the best sound editor, ADR editor, foley artist, and re-recording mixer I have encountered. To cite a specific example, for Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, Randolph created the sound of the entire film from scratch. There was no production sound going in. He was notably innovative in his approach to creating a new world of sound for the macro world of the mosquitos in the film. Using devices like leather jackets, his own voice for various flight sounds, and other unique concepts, he made a deeply immersive experience. This film relied heavily on the sound design given its heavy science fiction component. I was very happy with the results,” said Brian Rhodes, the director of the film. “Randolph is extremely hard working, dependable, diligent and a wonderful human being to be around. I greatly look forward to working with Randolph the rest of my career. He pushes the boundaries of what is possible and is a visionary.”
Rhodes, who previously worked with Zaini on the award-winning film Harold’s Fish Sticks, refused to have another sound designer work with him on the project. He even pushed back the timeline to work with the sound designer, knowing he needed the best. Although it was a long process from start to finish, there was not a moment of it that Zaini did not like.
“It was work that I enjoyed wholeheartedly. Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is an action-filled movie, which means there are a lot of high-paced sequences that were fun to design. I had a blast planning, recording, and editing the sounds I created,” said Zaini.
With every project he takes part in, no matter how successful, Zaini is living his dream. As a child, he told stories, always putting in captivating sound effects. He may not have known at the time it would be his future, but he always knew what his passion was.
“Like most children, I grew up watching animations. Though I wasn’t always aware of the sound design aspects of those cartoons, it had always sold the believability of these drawn and sculpted worlds and characters, being brought to live with sound. To think that what I do now is breathing life into these lovable characters, it is like having an important role behind a magician’s performance,” he said.
Working on Mosquito: The Bite of Passage was just another chance for Zaini to live out his dream.