If there were ever a time to resist judging a book by its cover, the moment you encounter MD McCallum's mis-named "iClone 4.31: 3D Animation" is that time. The most important thing to say is that Packt Publishing was evidently constrained to keep the same book title even after its momentous decision to cover the new Version 5 of iClone. So, to be perfectly clear: *this book covers the awesome new features of iClone 5.* At the very least, a "Covers Version 5" sticker should have easily been slapped on the book! On a far more trivial--but far more perplexing--level, the cover of this guide to the planet's most user-friendly 3D animation program is decorated with a macro view of some unknown flower: a flower so ugly it might as well be a common weed.
In my opinion, McCallum's achievement is further undermined by the book's rough paper stock--yet another mystery, given the book's premium price. Not only does this cheapen the feel of the book, it degrades the fidelity of the book's many black and white pictures--even beyond the fuzziness caused by the poor attention given to their brightness and contrast. (We won't even mention the additional dreariness added by a nondescript sans-serif body font.) I bring these issues up specifically to prevent them from giving you the wrong impression: there is nothing second-class about the instruction presented here. If you are getting started with iClone, this is the book you have been dreaming of: your hot-wire for an incredibly powerful animation hot-rod.
Now, one thing you can judge accurately from the cover: this book is eminently suited to the newcomer. It really assumes you know nothing about the program and enables you to master the basics. In general, the longer you have been using iClone, the less value you'll find in this book. On the other hand, even an intermediate user can still learn from McAllum's insights as a longtime industry professional in computer graphics and an iClone developer, especially since the technical editor was heavy-hitter Guy Langlois. This is all the more true because Packt and McCallum made the difficult, courageous, but ultimately inevitable, decision to expand the book to cover the new features of iClone 5.
One of the things I like about this book is that McCallum tries to dispel some of the most self-defeating habits of newcomers, such as their fatal attraction to the idea that they can produce an entire animated short inside a single iClone project, without even breaking up their work across many projects, not to mention without using a video editor to cut and assemble their scenes. This inexplicable mindset is so common and so hopeless that I just wish Mike had addressed it even more thoroughly.
All things considered, Packt was very smart to be the first publisher to address so many years of a crying need for a beginner's guide to iClone, and, leaving aside the sad packaging mistakes, has essentially given us instruction worthy of iClone's brilliance. Based upon my perception of the size and growth rate of the iClone community, the book ought to sell like hotcakes. And then I'd like to get an offer to trade in this unattractive edition for a new edition printed with dignified type on quality paper, and illustrated with legible screenshots.