ML Interview: The Best Drone Pilot in the Business

Aerial drone work is no joke—and Raphael Boudreault-Simard is the first to call when you need it done.
words :: Ben Osborne // photos :: Courtesy Flow Motion Aerials.


You might not know it, but you’re probably familiar with Raphael (Rapha) Boudreault-Simard’s work. The Quebec native migrated to B.C. for kayaking, but he quickly realized he had another skill—cinematography. More specifically, flying drones.


He’s a magician with the drone and has been hired by the likes of TGR, Red Bull, and plenty more. From swiftwater rescue to B.C. spines, he’s flown his drone in some of the wildest environments in the world, chasing top athletes and giving the viewer a unique and thrilling look at the extreme sports world.


After seeing his most recent video with Remy Metailler, we had to sit down and see what goes into putting out game-changing videos.


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Tell us a bit about yourself—your background, how you go into videography, and so on. 


I come from Quebec City suburbia and have spent the better part of my last decade exploring rivers in those big colourful Tupperware containers called whitewater kayaks. A couple of years into kayaking, a few buddies and I started filming our descents, trying to put whitewater kayaking in Quebec on the map and also demystifying certain rivers. It was pretty basic filming, but we sure had a great time editing those videos and getting buck-wild with title effects and Twixtor slow motion!

When you get to a dead-end you don’t give up, you turn around and explore the next path. That being said, my imagination tends to go where the edge of technology also happens to be.


What’s your background with drones? 


It wasn’t until I started getting shoulder problems that I got into flying cameras. After my third shoulder dislocation, I was in a sling, unable to hold a camera, trying to figure out how I was going to stay in the whitewater action. That’s when the eureka moment happened… since I can’t hold a camera, let’s learn how to fly one! A week later, I was learning how to fly these little guys in hopes that I would be able to get some rad kayaking shots one day.

Did you play video games a lot as a kid? 

I certainly had a couple of years of gaming in my teenage-hood but nothing to do with controllers and joysticks.
Video games, or reality?
I still think slaying dragons and crafting wizards’ staffs in those Middle Ages role-playing games was good training for running a business, though! Are you reading this, mom?


You got your start with whitewater kayaking. How has it been transitioning to other sports? What’s your favourite/least favourite to film?


Coming from kayaking where the lines are always so committing and chaotic, I must admit that learning to bike and ski felt pretty manageable. Snowmobiling is a different story though. That was a struggle. (Thanks to Ian Mac and James McSkimming for their patience!) Favourite to film? I gotta say, snowmobiling through the soft powder to a stunning alpine location on a bluebird day to film some skiing action with TGR is hard to beat. Especially when the team is on fire and I can fly the drone from the snowmobile in a t-shirt.


This seems like a high-risk style of filming (for the drones)—any crashes? 


We could say there have been two distinct eras in my drone pilot journey. Before the FPV drones became smooth enough for cinematic use, I could count my crashes on one day. Since I started flying those FPV drones I must have crashed about 100 times. I often compare FPV to skateboarding. Skaters are constantly working on a trick, fail after fail until they finally land it. Most FPV crashes aren’t a big deal at all so it becomes a matter of persistence. To this day, my worst crash was on my second year in West Papua when I was still not quite awake enough yet and forgot my thumb was pushing down on the throttle joystick, resulting in a sunken $5,000. Crazily enough, the clients I was filming on that sea kayaking trip all pitched in and gathered enough to cover the purchase of another drone! Gratefulness x1000.


Actually, maybe it’s high-risk for the subject. Ever hit a rider/paddler/skier/climber/whatever? 


It all depends on the drone being used. While filming Remy Metailler in Squamish last Spring, I was trying to stay as close as possible and I ended up bumping into him as he slammed the brakes on a tight corner. That wasn’t a big deal since we were using a small 500g drone equipped with ducted propellers. He stopped, picked up the skateboard and we nailed the shot the next time around! Obviously, if I’m filming events or very consequential lines, I turned down the risk tolerance and fly only in a way that I’m 100% not going to hit the athlete. OK… let’s say 99%.


You’ve done plenty of high profile work—what’s your favourite gig ever? 


To me what makes a great gig is not so much what we’re filming but more so the crew and the sense of camaraderie. I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to spend time and film with many of my absolute personal heroes and greatest inspirations—Nouria Newman, I’m looking at you! Highlights: Spending 10 days winter camping in the Kootenay alpine with the TGR family was quite dreamy. Filming Scott Lindgren achieve a life goal of paddling all four biggest rivers coming off of sacred and powerful Mount Kailash in the Himalayas was nothing short of inspiring. One of my all-time favourites was joining Dane Jackson, Lorenzo Andrade and the Novus Select crew in Chile last winter for Dane’s first descent of this 134ft waterfall named Salto Maule. And bringing FPV technology to the table.


Would you say drones limit your imagination, or is your imagination still tapping into what they can do?


Solid question. It wouldn’t be right to say that drones limit my imagination. When you get to a dead-end you don’t give up, you turn around and explore the next path. That being said, my imagination tends to go where the edge of technology also happens to be.
Tools of the trade.
That just means a lot of researching, tinkering and geeking out is needed to create systems able to turn those visions into reality. I feel like we’re only just scratching the surface of what 360° cameras can do so the limit is just my imagination still!


What’s on tap next for you?   


I started working on a Flying Theatre project with Soren at SkySight a few months ago and we’ll be headed to Niagara Falls in the fall to create some stunning images. Flying Theatres are super immersive experiences with hydraulic seats suspended in the middle of a huge dome screen, moving with the aerial images presented. These films have usually been shot with helicopters. This will be the first one where we’re using FPV drones to fly low and in tight places that helicopters could never fit. Would you love to fly through glacier icefalls and crevasses? Let me take you there! What really resonates with me is the ability to give people this gift of flying through North America’s most beautiful and jaw-dropping locations.


If you’re interested in seeing more of Rapha’s work, head over to his Vimeo page and prepare to be wowed. —ML


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