Nature's optical nanomaterials are poised to form the platform for future optical devices with unprecedented functionality. The brilliant colors of many animals arise from the physical interaction of light with nanostructured, multifunctional materials. While their length scale is typically in the 100-nm range, the morphology of these structures can vary strongly. These biological nanostructures are obtained in a controlled manner, using biomaterials under ambient conditions. The formation processes nature employs use elements of both equilibrium self-assembly and far-from-equilibrium and growth processes. This renders not only the colors themselves, but also the formation processes technologically and ecologically highly relevant. Yet, for many biological nanostructured materials, little is known about the formation mechanisms - partially due to a lack of in vivo imaging methods. Here, we present the toolbox of natural multifunctional nanostructures and the current knowledge about the understanding of their far-from-equilibrium assembly processes.