Sure, it has a quirky name, but since 1997, the New York-based digital agency has developed a knack for hard-core programming most of its hipster colleagues can’t match. This past year, when Ford turned to the 52-person shop for its new Mustang Web site, Firstborn created a complex application breaking down the different layers of a 3-D model, leading to a first-of-its-kind customizer that allows consumers to render a car in 16 million color options. “It’s the difference between buying a bespoke shirt and the Armani one off the rack,” says SVP and former Flash developer Dan LaCivita. And once new tools are created, like a 3-D face-mapping application for photos, Firstborn unleashes them into the programming world as open source. “All the construction companies in America use the same types of cranes,” says LaCivita of his agency’s impulse to share–even with foes. “It’s the application of those tools that makes the difference.” It certainly does: Firstborn is now the digital brain stem for Aflac, IBM, JetBlue, Kodak, M&M’s, SoBe, and Wrigley, and revenue grew 13% in 2009.
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