Illustrator: Opacity, Transparency, Gradient Mask

To convert an image or vector, so it slowly appears “from nothing”…

create a solid of your colour.
copy the solid and paste in front. (apple+f or ctrl+f)
apply a black to white gradient to the front solid
select both objects
go to the transparency toolbox and click the little black arrow and select make opacity mask.
if you want to edit your opacity mask, select the right hand (mask) image from the two in the transparency toolbox (where there’s two previews of your shapes when you have them selected with a little chain between them) remember to click the other shape on the left when you’re done to exit mask edit mode

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