The fabrication of precision optical surfaces has undergone a revolution in recent years. The first purpose of this paper is to present case studies of novel optical designs not previously published, that utilize complex, or ‘freeform’, surfaces. These designs are described both for their own merits, and as pointers towards the types of adventurous designs for ground or space-based astronomy that might now be envisaged. The potential benefits are enhanced optical performance in more compact, lower mass, and rugged packages. Such designs would, until recently, have been impossible to fabricate, and so we also describe some of the recent technical advances that have materially changed this position.