When late television artist Bob Ross suddenly appeared in an advertisement this spring painting one of his iconic scenes, viewers were taken aback. Was it really the beloved Bob Ross adding a bottle of Mountain Dew to the snowy panorama?
“How about adding a few happy little droplets?” Ross asks in his calm, husky voice. “Sometimes in life you get a little thirsty.”
Ross is portrayed in the commercial by actor Bryan Mazzarello, a native of Pleasanton, where he moved with his family in 1989. His parents, Dave and Trisha Marell, still live in the Valley Trails neighborhood.
After graduating from Foothill High School, class of 96, Bryan went to Southern California to study at Biola University.
“I was an art student, but I was hanging out with film students, they were so much fun,” he recalls.
He worked as a set photographer behind the scenes and then began to land acting roles. After graduating in 2000, he traveled to Europe and then returned to Biola where he worked in web design and started spending time with his future wife, Stéphanie.
“I ended up producing 80 videos for the university,” he said.
Mazzarello also took a keen interest in his Italian roots and changed his last name, Marell, back to the original, announcing it at their wedding, much to his grandfather’s delight.
The couple moved to Oakland where they pursued graphic design, launching Mazzarello Media & Arts in 2009. They returned to SoCal in 2019.
“I got serious about playing again from 2017,” Mazzarello said.
Last year, trial ads were held online, he noted, and his candidacy to play Bob Ross was just one of many.
The artist hosted “The Joy of Painting” from 1983 to 1994 on PBS, creating a painting in each segment and explaining the process in a soft voice, using slogans such as “Let’s add some happy little trees”. He died in 1995.
“I remember seeing him growing up in Pleasanton,” Mazzarello said.
In September, Bryan and Stephanie were on vacation at Angels Camp when his agents called for the Mountain Dew Bob Ross test.
“I watched a bunch of Bob Ross videos, understood his cadence and tone, and wrote down his classic lines,” Mazzarello recalls.
He had brought his watercolors and Stephanie filmed with her iPhone while Bryan pretended to paint a picture hanging in their hotel room. They sent the video, and he didn’t think of Bob Ross or Mountain Dew anymore.
“I’ve done 130 auditions – you have to let them go after you submit one,” Mazzarello explained with a laugh.
Then he was contacted for a recall in October.
“It was a live Zoom audition, and they said to make sure I had good lighting,” Mazzarello said. “It was a big agency in New York (TBWA Chiat Day). There were people from Mountain Dew, director Nic Yiallouris and the head of makeup effects.”
In the end, Mazzarello knew he really wanted the role, thinking it would be great to work with Yiallouris.
“Then I got a text from the cast saying I had it and when was I available to work with the makeup crew,” he said.
He learned the makeup was done by Michael Ornelaz at Legacy Effects in San Fernando, 2020 Emmy winner for “Star Trek: Picard”.
“I collapsed – I was so happy,” Mazzarello recalls. “I went in and did a lifetime casting – they did an eyebrow, a forehead, the tip of the nose, the shape of the nostrils, the lobes of the ears…
The team also added crow’s feet and under-eye bags to age it, perfected the wig, and hand-threaded the eyebrows, mustache and beard. At the same time, a bodysuit was sculpted and the wardrobe department found a period shirt and tailored jeans.
“It took four hours to apply all the makeup on the day of the shoot, with two professionals applying the color,” Mazzarello said. “I had my makeup done a few times, but it was a whole different caliber.”
They shot the commercial on October 29, which coincidentally was Bob Ross’ birthday in 1942. Due to COVID, although the commercial was shot in a studio in Hollywood, director Yiallouris remained in New York to direct. via iPad.
The ad shows Bob Ross painting a winter mountain scene with a bottle of Mountain Dew nestled in the snow, and it cuts between film clips of the real Bob Ross, Mazzarello and Nic Hankins, a painter certified by Bob Ross, who made the painting .
“He was wearing the same jersey as me and they shaved both of our arms,” Mazzarello said.
“It was a 16 hour day, everyone worked so hard to get it right. They used facial mapping technology to make everything perfect,” he added. “Michael Ornelaz was so patient. Of course there was a learning curve, but he treated me like a total professional.”
The results are 15 and 30 second commercials as well as a “Lost Bob Ross Episode”, a 40 minute video on how to paint a snowy mountain scene with the last 15 minutes spent adding a Mountain Dew bottle.
The ad began running on March 1, with plenty of airtime during the NCAA basketball tournament. He’s had over a million views online, including Instagram Mountain Dew and Bob Ross; and on Mountain Dew’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
Meanwhile, Bryan and Stephanie Mazzarello continue to be busy with screenwriting and design projects.
“We were recently the graphic designers for Nickelodeon’s new comedy ‘Drama Club’,” said Bryan.
But not too long ago, he did a photoshoot with Wells Fargo in Petaluma and Calistoga, which meant a stay with his parents in Pleasanton.
“My dad was a disc jockey and he was the voice of the parades in town,” Mazzarello said. “He’s like ‘Mr. Voice’ and read me stories with good character voices. I give him credit for being such a fun dad.”