We talk to local drone operator, Robin (Gumby) Moulang about his stunning work filming some of the best in professional surfing.
Robin (Gumby) Moulang is a professional drone operator and photographer who specialises in underwater and surf photography. Having worked with some of the big names in surfing as well as having filmed some major surf events, we caught up with Gumby to chat about how it all got started!
Let’s start with a little background, if you don’t mind please tell us a little bit about yourself Gumby!
I live in Cape St Francis, where you couldn’t get away from the salt if you tried – that works for me. I started off my ‘camera’ career filming spearfishing, which is a very challenging sport to shoot, but took me to some amazing places and I fell in love with the excitement of shooting something with an un-predictable storyline.
Pls tell us about your business and what you do.
Well I never filmed surfing because it doesn’t really pay and I figured I’d rather be surfing! With the advent of drones however, that all changed for me. I saw the shots and was immediately focused on getting one. I wheeled and dealed and bought my first drone about 3 years ago, there were wasn’t many people flying them around here at that stage and I managed to get ahead. Most of my competition seemed to be RC guys that were putting camera’s on their drones, rather then camera guys strapping drones to their camera’s. There certainly weren’t too many surfers that were nerdy enough…. So I filmed a bunch of RVCA surf events and started to really get the hang of it through that.
My real move into surfing happened when I was hired by the World Surf League last year to film the J-Bay Open with my drone. I got some great shots and they were stoked. It helped my cement the notion that this is a great platform to film surfing from. This year, I operated their drone (a DJI Inspire 1) during the live broadcast and that was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done for money!
My business is called ‘Gumboot Media’, my nickname (Gumby) tricked up a bit. I am a stay-at-home dad most days, so I work from home where I built a studio for recording music, voice overs and editing. I have never forced anything, but I get to do super cool work most of the time, usually driven by a lucky network of friends. I have done most of the usual things that independent camera guys do, real estate, promo stuff, conferences etc etc… however I’ve never done the wedding thing – just not really my vibe. I even had a sound rig for doing bands at one point, but I quit passive smoking, so it had to go. Working with the drone has been my most positive leap forward and the best investment I’ve made.
You’ve been working with some really big names in surfing, can you tell us a bit about how that happened and what exactly do you shoot for them?
I have been very fortunate to work with some high profile surfers, partly due to my time filming the J-Bay Open, but mostly because they are around here thanks to the perfect waves at supertubes. Twiggy Baker is a good friend of mine and surfing peer, we work together quite a lot. He has lined me up with some great work and it’s a mutual gain, where we go to rad places and film and surf special waves. We did a job with Taylor Steele last year, that was special because he had a huge impact on all of us growing up with his movies. Twig and I just came back from a remote location where we took Kelly Slater to chase some empty waves and to show the world that it’s ok to surf in South Africa and you won’t get eaten! Twigs wife, Kate is the ultimate surf shooter, standing on the rocks with her sticks all day getting that perfect angle and never misses a wave. This helps me run around looking for creative shots and flying my drone where you often miss waves. Also it does help to have a Big Wave World Champion and 11 times World Champion in the water with no other lenses around!
What sort of equipment do you use?
I have, like most videographers, had to keep up with trends and technology. This can be expensive but if you box clever it’s not too bad. I have been through all the handycams in my underwater shooting days, getting housings built by Stuart Donkin from Marlin Marine. My first ‘creative’ camera was a Canon 60D which I just sold to fund an upgrade. I had a Canon XA10 for a few years which was the most amazing piece of kit in so many ways. I think I miss that more then any other camera I’ve sold. I’m now a Sony mirrorless fan. They are amazing. I bought one of the first Sony a7s bodies that came into Orms and I’ve never looked back. The picture gives me goosebumps. I also have a Sony a6000 as a backup and for stills, it’s incredible and I find myself taking it everywhere. Both of these cameras can be lifted by my Octacopter that I had custom designed and built by Scott from multirotorsa.com.
Drone choice has been a bit of an adventure, with lots of trial and error along the way. The tech has come along way very quickly and users don’t have to worry about all the technical stuff anymore. Thats where the DJI Inspire comes in. It’s like moving from Microsoft DOS into OS X Yosemite without any stops! I didn’t take the included camera seriously until I actually used the craft. The 4k image is beautiful and as long as there is great light I am super happy with it. The actual aircraft is incredibly smooth and reliable, which is great as I don’t have to worry about much except the shot. The controls and user interface are so cleverly setup that composing great shots are intuitive. At the moment, I feel like the shots that I dream about are possible because of this product, and that’s nice.
How long are your flying times and are the flights pre-planned or do you get to improvise?
The flight times are relatively long with the DJI Inspire and the feedback from the craft allows me to maximise the battery use. I can come back and land as many times as I need, or stay out there for the full battery cylce depending on the shot, all the while keeping an eye on the battery level on the DJI Pilot app. This has been huge for me, particularly with surfing as sometimes waves take a long time to come, but they pop up quickly and you can’t always take off in time to film the action, so I can just hover out there waiting for a set. In a perfect world I would have 20 batteries and 20 chargers so I can keep it out there all day.
Have you ever had any mishaps?
I have had some mishaps, usually end quite un-eventfully though. I have crash landed pretty badly about 3 times, when I feel like I don’t have proper control over the craft and there are people nearby I crash it on the beach or in the bush. I lost one of my Hexacopters in the bush once and only found it the next day after some serious bushwacking and stressing. The DJI Inspire feels like a puppy dog though, and although I’m sure things can go wrong, it feels less likely.
What’s next for you? Working on, or planning any exciting projects?
I have some cool projects lined up, mostly with surfers that are in and out and un-predictable. I have been commissioned by St. Francis Bay tourism to do a promo video for the area and this is a bit of a passion project for me. Most importantly though, it’s school holidays soon so I get to hang out with my boys.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring drone operators?
My advice for anybody looking to get into drone camera work is to invest wisely, the technology is advancing so rapidly that you can buy yesterdays trick today. Do your homework and make sure you know what your output is going to be. Don’t try fly a red if you’re going to make YouTube clips. Also, don’t take silly chances that tarnish the platform, the general public are weary of them and it takes a lot of consideration to keep opinion positive. Finally, spend lots of time getting comfortable flying so that when they loose control (and they do) you can handle it.