When Cliff Diving and Art Combine

Alessandro De Rose
Graphics artist Jakub Nekuda melts diving with the art of manipulation

Ahead of the 2020 season, Red Bull Cliff Diving is excited to announce a new addition to the team. Graphics artist Jakub Nekuda is a creative magician when it comes manipulating photos, and this year he has been given free licence to work his magic with cliff diving images old and new. 

Take a look at some of his stunning work below, along with a very interesting interview with the man himself about his background and techniques.

What's your background? Where do you come from?
I'm from Prague, the capital city of Czech Republic and I've lived here happily ever since. I had an amazing childhood thanks to my loving parents. My father is a musician and a freelance copywriter mostly for advertising agencies and my mother is an office manager in a German agency.

Cliff diving's 'sunny boy' - David Colturi. Original Photo by Romina Amato - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.

Gamer to football freestyler to graphic artist - how did that happen?
Indeed! Growing up both in a gaming and soccer culture, these two were with me ever since. At the end of elementary school, when I started to think more about my future, I figured that regular soccer is not for me. I wanted to be more creative, independent and free, so I completely stopped. I knew about freestyle back then, but only watched it as a fan.

When I was in 9th grade I got inspired by photo manipulations on the internet and fell into it. I knew there's so much potential in it and it's much more reliable than freestyle, so I started to learn Photoshop and also tried to pursue a path in professional gaming.

After 3 years of pro-gaming I reached some milestones, made some money, but I realized that it's not reliable either, in fact it's too competitive and unhealthy. Spending 16 hours a day practicing for an average of 3 years pro-career is not something I wanted to do. That was after finishing graphic design high school. There I was gaming and school free, with a lot of free time on my hands. For a few years, I did various things, ranging from partying, working out, studying other topics, working on self-development and then finally decided to pick up freestyle football and further develop graphic design skills. Believe it or not, these two go together quite well!

Jakub Nekuda - the man behind the art.

Where do you take your inspiration from?
I know that it's hard to compare Freestyle and GFX, but I believe I'm on a somewhat similar level in both of those in the sense that I no longer need much external inspiration, I have so much experience in both, that I can generate ideas the moment I commit to it and get in the flow. The internet is great for inspiration, but I think there is so much information that it can lead to "over inspiration" and demotivation. For me to be inspired is to be well rested and to commit to work. However, what really got me going in the early days were: GFX: Bosslogic, Aegis Strife. Freestyle: Kamalio, Kazane.

Is this image above how we can imagine your work? Can you explain a bit? How many steps are necessary? How many different images do you use?
This particular edit is one of the fan art edit styles that I do. For this type of edit there are 3 steps that I find necessary and then the rest is optional.

1) Brushes. I use "brush stroke" brushes to create both texture and some elements behind the athlete.
2) Textures. I like to blend different textures like a paper and a wall.
3) Simplify. I simplify the photos of the athlete to simpler shapes with various filters.

All these steps ensure the urban feel and then I added some extra shapes and images of the athlete behind, just in black & white with lower opacity. This whole process took 45 minutes and there are 3 photos of the athlete, few textures and the rest are brushes and shapes. If I were to spend more time on it, I could further develop it to something like this: www.artstation.com/artwork/N56WAN

Let's talk about cliff diving. What's the story behind e.g. the photo with Lysanne Richard in the bubble?
With the cliff diving photos, I wanted to incorporate something from the diver's life or personality and add my style to it. In Lysanne's case, she is a mother with a bubbly personality. Apart from the obvious - the bubbles, her poses look like she is floating in space, so I put her in the space! With Rhiannan having had a perfect season, I put her in stars, like she is bathing in them - in success!

Canada's bubbly Lysanne Richard. Original Photo by Dean Treml - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.

How do you go about your work? Where do you start? Do you follow certain steps?
I will describe the process behind an average edit. First, I analyze the original picture, the lights, the mood, the posture... to get an idea what type of edit could work. Then I cut the person from the original background, slightly retouch it and put it on a white background. After that, I browse several stock photos and experiment with different images, styles, themes and techniques. Slowly building layers of images and blending them together is the main part. The last part is the finishing touches like adding particles, filters, color correcting, retouching, sharpening, blurring and so on. To sum it up, I follow certain steps, but also always experiment with different paths and that's what I love about it and why my work is so diverse.

Record-breaking champion Rhiannan Iffland bathing in the stars. Original Photo by Romina Amato - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.

Can you work with any photo or do you have requirements?
This is something that the freestyle community has really taught me - to be able to work with extremely low-quality photos. Those madmen were sending me blurred, pixelated 20kb photos for an edit! When I started editing on socials, before having some kind of network, I used to edit any photo just to make a name for myself. Nowadays I require at least medium quality photo.

So hot right now - Constantin Popovici is the man to watch in 2020. Original Photo by Dean Treml - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.

What's your biggest project so far?
My biggest personal project is for sure "The Freestylers 2017". It's a ~200 hours, 4 months project focused on editing football freestylers from all over the world. The result was more than 40 unique edits along with wallpapers, prints and later even a calendar. The full project along with the download link for all the resources can be seen here: www.behance.net/gallery/60252011/Freestylers-2017

Is there a certain topic/athlete... that you prefer or aim for?
I used to aim mostly for freestyle football, but now that I'm in the radar of this community, I like to explore more cultures and topics. For example, martial arts, dance, sport, horror, urban cultures, sci-fi, comics and more.

Is the GFX work your main occupation?
I don't have a main occupation, it's the combination of GFX, regular graphic design work and freestyle that does it for me. Whatever I focus on the most at a time is the main occupation. Currently it's split between the first two and usually once the weather gets better, there will be more freestyle involved and less regular graphic work.

Reflections of a legend - Orlando Duque. Original Photo by Dean Treml - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.
Diving and drumming - two of Yana Nestsiarava's greatest passions. Original Photo by Romina Amato - Re-Imagined by Jakub Nekuda.