Why Mtn Dew created a 40-minute Bob Ross ‘lost episode’ to bring joy by painting
For generations, budding painters have consumed Bob Ross’ meditative step-by-step guide to landscapes, from its heyday on PBS to its later resurgence on the Internet. After a year with people turning to his show “The Joy of Painting” to stay alert, Mountain Dew decided to revisit the icon and bring him back from the dead for the full 40-minute “Lost Episode”. The drum finds out how the happy little painter was brought back to life.
Part artist, part magician, Bob Ross built his craft by revealing his secrets. While painting feels like a daunting, high-profile space to many, Ross democratized it, giving freedom of choice to those who never thought they could pick up a brush, let alone paint a masterpiece.
While Ross rose to fame on his PBS television show “The Joy of Painting” between 1986 and his death in 1995, his continued popularity was thanks to the Internet as old episodes on YouTube attracted millions of viewers. This year, its posthumous popularity has only compounded as Ross’ calming, methodical style serves as a tonic for the stress of the pandemic.
Looking to capitalize on Ross’ posthumous fame, Mtn Dew decided this month to revive the painter for a 40-minute “Lost Episode”.
“It seemed like the right time to spread joy, to remind people of this simpler approach to life, that things are still difficult in our world. It’s messy, but Bob’s voice and style bring comfort and joy, ”said Nicole Portwood, MTN Dews vice president of marketing. “There is something really powerful in his focus on loving himself and the natural world, especially at this moment.”
And so, 25 years after his death, the team came up with the idea of bringing the painter back to the Bob Ross Company, the company that Ross had founded with his business partner. A brand that poses an impressively complex technical challenge and brings a famous icon back from the dead can feel exploitative. Portwood explains that the partnership was critical to her being sensitive to it.
“There is a very fine line between being honored and being able to serve yourself,” she admits. “Everything from the treatment of the video and the filters we went through to make sure it felt authentic to the music at the end of the ad was on purpose. We wanted to recreate Bob instead of parodying him, and without the approval and partnership of the Bob Ross Company we would never have done this. “
After agreeing to work together, the company worked hand-in-hand with Mtn Dew’s TBWA Chiat Day advertising agency throughout the process.
“It was really complicated,” explains Portwood. “We used a variety of different film magic.” First, the team started with a body duplicate that came as close as possible to Ross, including facial structure, body shape and height. And of course, beyond his unique painting style, Ross is perhaps best remembered for his curly hair, so they found a suitable wig that added a prosthesis to the double to bring it as close as possible to the painter.
To make sure the episode came as close to the truth as possible, CGI was used to match it with the original. “We used face mapping for mouth replacements and face augmentation. And then body parts that go exactly with Bob. And then we fixed all of that with actual footage from the real-life episode that Bob shot while painting that original winter scene, before we added a Mtn Dew bottle. “
Next, the team had to find someone to lead the 40-minute tutorial. “We used a Bob Ross certified painter that we found working with the Bob Ross Company,” explains Portwood. “He painted the entire actual painting, so we knew it would be in Bob’s signature style. And then we made practical recordings that we recorded. “
Ultimately, the team must find a voice actor who had a tenor like Ross and who was able to adjust his tone and cadence of speech. “He even used a lot of his catchphrases like ‘happy little droplets’ in some long shapes that he really had to work with when he was painting with the bottle.”
While Mtn Dew first featured his version of Ross in an inspired commercial, Portwood explains why they didn’t stop there. “We thought if we were to honor Bob’s legacy and incorporate the brand in an authentic way, it was a must that we create this lost episode and give people the opportunity to engage with it the same way they would have one of Bob’s real episodes. “
“A lost full-length episode would allow people to paint through the brand lens with Bob. Engagement is increased when you pick up the brush and paint with it. ”
The Lost Episodes of Mtn Dew come after a number of brands recently decided to revisit ancient icons to add today’s stars to their ads. The NFL, a strategy made famous back in 2015 by Audrey Hepburn of Galaxy, made the decision for this year’s Super Bowl to revive soccer legend Vince Lombardi to promote equality.
“Nostalgia is a very strong emotional connection for people. Especially when you are going through such a chaotic time where we still have so many unknowns. Nostalgia is pleasant, it brings joy, it creates a little order in a world of chaos, ”explains Portwood.
And it’s a tactic Mtn Dew has visited many times. Just last month, Gremlin star Zach Galligan reunited with best buddy Mogwai, while Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston reenacted a famous scene from The Shining last Super Bowl.
“For a brand like Mtn Dew, we close a lot to bridge the generation gap,” explains Portwood. “We’re really focused on finding ways to use nostalgia to connect with our core fandom, but also build a bridge to new fans.”
You can watch the full Lost Episode here: