I really had a lot of fun building a 3d soldier character and I wanted to share the various stages of production I went through. I made a ton of mistakes and there are definitely better methods out there but this is the route I took and I hope it helps you with your own project in some way.
It started here.
I want to build a cool sci-fi soldier" Those words in mind translate to a vast array of initial questions; Is it humanoid? Is it Male/Female? Does it have Massive over-sized armor? What kind of weapons would it use? Is it going to be Realistic? You have to start somewhere, even if you don't fully understand what it is you want to build. Of all the stages of production, this was the most fun because it resolves those questions and also begins to hint at answers to new, more detailed questions of the characters form. Even as a rough scribble, a few forms actually made it through to the final model.
Using reference images is key for obvious reasons but one thing I personally need to remember when using them is not to compare my current rough work to them. It is very difficult to see a finished product from such an early stage and If I am looking at a final posed beauty shot of Ironman or a Halo Spartan it is very easy to become discouraged instead of inspired. I had to keep telling myself that sticking with it is my only option if I really want to finish it.
Before any of the details could be added I really had to have all of my big "form" questions answered. Rebuilding a leg or a piece of armor happened many times and continued to do so until I was 90% happy with it. I split off the hands and ignored the head design for now because they needed their own focus time.
Here is where it took a large leap. Progress was most apparent which really ignites the motivation to continue on, however, finding a nice medium between looking cool and looking functional was tough. It is so easy to get lost in the details.
Even though the final product was mostly all white, adding color at this stage really helped me break up the forms and identify problem areas.
I was happy with the hands and considered them final after my first attempt but after returning to them with "fresh" eyes I realized the fingers were too skinny and there were many other proportion issues I needed to tweak. These flaws became even more noticeable once I reattached the hands to the body. Building the hands in a separate scene was helpful in some ways but ended up being more trouble in the long run.
The head is so important.
Obviously the head is important, it is what we identify with. I spent more time on the design of the head than the rest of the model combined. I started here, ripping off any cool head design I could find online and playing with it in Photoshop. It gave me a place to start but nothing really stood out to me.
Just not working.
I tried so many head roughs but nothing was working at all, these were my best two but they felt too "Halo" and lacked the feel I was going for. Of all stages of production, this process was the longest and most frustrating - I almost quit many times.
I realized it needed more identity than the previous designs so tried something interesting by slowly hinting at human facial features to try to bring it to life and give it some personality. I sculpted in a low brow, high cheek bones and a stern bottom lip which quickly advanced into the final helmet design.
Needs a gun.
It was actually pretty easy to design a weapon that would fit this guy. Once the main soldier armor was realised, it was just a matter of matching the gun to the style that was already there.
My initial paint test, I really liked the plain white color of a storm trooper so I started with that. I went through many more color tests but ended up returning to my first choice.