A rig is a combination of tools and objects for animating a jointed model, such as a robot arm or a character skeleton. The term comes from the film industry, where a special effects artist makes a mechanical hand or body (a “rig”) and operates it with electronic or mechanical controls rather than moving each piece by hand.
In 3D, a rig is designed to move or rotate several objects at once to simulate real-life movement. All animation keyframes are held by rig controls rather than individual pieces of the rig, reducing the number of keyframes overall and making it much easier to control and edit the animation.
The two types of rigging—mechanical and character rigging—use different approaches. Mechanical rigging is appropriate for machinery with multiple rigid parts linked together. It uses bones, IK chains and control objects. Character rigging, for animating a flexible skin, uses the Biped tool and the Skin modifier.
The unique nature of IK chains makes them useful for animating machinery with multiple joints. The LookAt controller is also useful, for animating pistons and other sliding parts.
In architectural rendering, character rigging and animation is most suitable for animation from a long or medium distance, especially when the camera moves around the character and views it from multiple angles. The Biped tool creates the basics of a walk cycle, but the walk needs to be adjusted for natural movement. While the Skin modifier goes 75% of the distance toward correct association of bones and skin, you'll have to do the rest to make a natural-looking animation.