Cell shape changes underlie a large set of biological processes ranging from cell division to cell motility. Stereotyped patterns of cell shape changes also determine tissue remodeling events such as extension or invagination. In vitro and cell culture systems have been essential to understanding the fundamental physical principles of subcellular mechanics. These are now complemented by studies in developing organisms that emphasize how cell and tissue morphogenesis emerge from the interplay between force-generating machines, such as actomyosin networks, and adhesive clusters that transmit tensile forces at the cell cortex and stabilize cell-cell and cell-substrate interfaces. Both force production and transmission are self-organizing phenomena whose adaptive features are essential during tissue morphogenesis. A new era is opening that emphasizes the similarities of and allows comparisons between distant dynamic biological phenomena because they rely on core machineries that control universal features of cytomechanics.