When deceased television artist Bob Ross suddenly appeared in a commercial this spring painting one of his iconic scenes, viewers were taken aback. Was that really the beloved Bob Ross adding a bottle of Mountain Dew to the snowy panorama?
"How about we add some happy little droplets?" Ross asks in his calm raspy voice. "Sometimes in life you get a little thirsty."
Ross is portrayed in the commercial by actor Bryan Mazzarello, who hails from 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 attend Biola University.
"I was an art major but I hung out with the film major students -- they were so much fun," he recalled.
He worked as a still photographer behind the scenes, then started to get acting roles. After graduating in 2000 he traveled to Europe then returned to Biola where he worked in web design and began spending time with his wife-to-be, Stephanie.
"I ended up producing 80 videos for the university," he said.
Mazzarello also took a keen interest in his Italian roots and changed his family name, Marell, back to the original, announcing it at their wedding, to the delight of his grandfather.
The couple moved to Oakland where they pursued graphic design, launching Mazzarello Media & Arts in 2009. They moved back to SoCal in 2019.
"I got serious about acting again starting in 2017," Mazzarello said.
Last year, tryouts for commercials were held online, he noted, and his bid to play Bob Ross was just one of many.
The artist hosted "The Joy of Painting" from 1983-94 on PBS, creating a painting in each segment and explaining the process in a soft voice, using catchphrases such as, "Let's add some happy little trees." He died in 1995.
"I remembered watching him, growing up in Pleasanton," Mazzarello said.
In September, Bryan and Stephanie were on vacation in Angels Camp when his agents called about the Mountain Dew Bob Ross tryout.
"I watched a bunch of Bob Ross videos, got his cadence and his tone, and wrote down his classic phrases," Mazzarello remembered.
He'd brought along his watercolors, and Stephanie filmed with his iPhone while Bryan pretended to paint a picture that had been hanging inside their hotel room. They sent off the video, and he didn't think any more about Bob Ross or Mountain Dew.
"I've done 130 auditions -- you have to let them go once you submit one," Mazzarello explained with a laugh.
Then he was contacted for a callback in October.
"This 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 folks from Mountain Dew, the director Nic Yiallouris, and the makeup effects leader."
When it ended, Mazzarello knew he really wanted the role, thinking it would be great to work with Yiallouris.
"Then I got a text from casting saying I got it and when was I available to work with the makeup team," he said.
He learned makeup was being done by Michael Ornelaz at Legacy Effects in San Fernando, a 2020 Emmy winner for "Star Trek: Picard."
"I flipped out -- I was so happy," Mazzarello recalled. "I went in and did a life casting -- they did a brow piece, a forehead, nose tip, nostril shape, ear lobes ... they decided my chin should be more prominent."
The team also added crow's feet and eye bags to age him, perfected the wig, and hand-threaded the eyebrows, mustache and beard. At the same time, a body suit was sculpted, and the wardrobe department found a period shirt and jeans that were tailored to fit.
"It took four hours to apply all the makeup the day of filming, with two professionals applying the color," Mazzarello said. "I'd had makeup done many times, but this was a whole different caliber."
They shot the commercial Oct. 29, which was coincidentally Bob Ross' birthday in 1942. Due to COVID, although the commercial was filmed at a studio in Hollywood, director Yiallouris remained in New York directing via iPad.
The commercial depicts 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 Bob Ross-certified painter, who did the actual painting.
"He was in the same shirt as me, and they shaved both of our arms," Mazzarello explained.
"It was a 16-hour day, everybody worked so hard to get it right. They used face mapping technology to get it all perfect," he added. "Michael Ornelaz was so patient. Sure, there was a learning curve, but he treated me like a total professional."
The results are 15-second and 30-second commercials as well as a "Bob Ross Lost Episode," a 40-minute video of how to paint a snowy mountain scene with the last 15 minutes spent adding a bottle of Mountain Dew.
The commercial began appearing March 1, with a lot of air time during the NCAA basketball tournament. It has had more than 1 million views online, including on Mountain Dew and Bob Ross Instagram accounts; and on Mountain Dew Facebook pages and YouTube.
Meanwhile Bryan and Stephanie Mazzarello continue to be busy with script-writing and design projects.
"We recently were the graphic designers on Nickelodeon's new comedy, 'Drama Club,'" Bryan said.
But not too long ago, he did a photo shoot with Wells Fargo in Petaluma and Calistoga, which meant a stay with his folks in Pleasanton.
"My dad was a disc jockey, and he used to do the voice of the parades in town," Mazzarello said. "He's like 'Mr. Voice' and would read me stories with good character voices. I give credit to him for being such a fun father."